Forgotten Autumn – Chapter 2

I truly have no idea why the footnote links below only work in reverse. Maybe I’ll leave that method behind as I code this going forward. It was a long struggle with no reward. – K

2

ChicagoFORTY-FIVE DAYS UNTIL END OF WORLD. I wasn’t to be exiled just yet. They hadn’t even gotten the phones in at the new office in LeBlanc, so I would have at least a few more days of work in civilization.

A statewide campaign is not something you do if you are any less than 255% invested. (I did just let the % slip in there. I did it willfully, and I’m not sorry about it.) What I mean is, campaigning in general is hard and thankless and any grizzled old vet will tell you that it’s different now than it used to be, which is to say it is worse than it used to be. You can work your hands to the bone, go without sleep and eat shitty road food or awful warmed-over slop at Rotary Clubs and fundraisers while you hear this person who you admire spout the same focus-tested talking points they’ve been hammering on for months, all in utter futility when some rich asshole who owns a casino or an oil rig decides to fund your opponent or your candidate gets it in his head to put out a stupid tweet about rape. In a state the size of Illinois, it feels as if most of your time is spent trying to morph into the shape of a car seat while you grip a steering wheel and stare out at cornfields that stretch to the edge of the spiral arm of the galaxy.

I had respect for those who did it even back when I was essentially their sworn enemy, which is to say I was a reporter. That is to say: I was a good reporter, and a good reporter is the sworn enemy of somebody who is running a campaign, because he will wreck that campaign if he is given even a passing chance. By this point, though, I had come away from those petty little concerns about democratic governance. It was us or them, and they wanted to put women in kitchens and gays in camps, if they were honest with themselves. It’s easy to be the one who sits back and criticizes and snarks, but try running things. Try being somebody who makes a thing that works.

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Forgotten Autumn – The Full Text

Forgotten Autumn

by Kenneth Lowe


1

It got so desperate, and the polls so close (and so nasty) that Rick took me aside and in that slick and smooth and totally insincere way he had, told me that I was getting an important job: LeBlanc.

“This could make or break her, Johnny,” he lied, and would lie to Marcy and Diana, who were waiting outside after me to be given DeKalb and Oswego respectively, two other places that would neither make nor break anybody, least of all Wendy. “That’s why I need you.”

Rick was – Rick is – a guy whose dick is in your face day and night, figuratively and in my case very nearly literally, as he is 6′ 5″ and I barely clear 5′ 7″. If that is not a great image, well, try working for him. But, and I observe this as an expatriate, he fit right in to the country at that time.

I was too young to remember too much about Clinton (42, not 45), but I remember being eight and suddenly having his goddamn dick in my fucking face, everywhere, such that even Animaniacs had to change its opener. And it’s never the fault of the dick’s owner, you’ll notice. He shrugs and shakes his head, all like “What can you even do?” We’re all just along for the ride. We can try for a dick forecast, but you really never know.

“What’s the ground game like there?” I asked. Whenever you want to convince somebody you have been listening, you should highlight portions of what they have said and devise three follow-up questions. If I ever do this to you, you will know the sheer degree of effort I am putting forth not to fall asleep out of disgust.

“We’re opening it up, it’s a new front,” he said. “We just got a great donation from the Party and it’s going to get us all set up for a real grudge match. I think you’re just the guy for it, Johnny.”

I go by “Jack,” but not to a guy like Rick. Rick makes his own names for people. He respects no sovereignty but his own.

“Well,” I said. “I guess I better get started.”

Out in the hall, Diana was making a pointed effort at ignoring me, and I her. Marcy might not have been able to talk for Rick’s door being open, but then the Batphone rang and she leaned in close. Her face is about 75% eye socket, as if campaigning has well and truly sucked the marrow out of her bones. Back then, she had dyed-purple-black bangs and wore two sweaters in the late September heat and still managed to look as if she were barely able to keep from shivering.

“What fuck-pit is he sending you to?” she asked.

“LeBlanc,” I said. “Guess it’ll be DeKalb or maybe Taylorville for you. Maybe flip a coin.”

I was half-right. That’s about my percentage on all political prognostication, and yet they keep hiring me.

Marcy was never one to sugarcoat her views, but Rick hung up the phone and called her in and it was the last time we would see one another for a number of years. In she went, and the door closed behind her. As I walked by Diana’s chair I had the unmistakable impression that I had seen her stir in the corner of my vision, but when I looked back over my shoulder she was just poking at her smartphone. I hurried to the stairs down the hall and headed back out to the L, the city closing about me like a whale’s maw made of noise and light and the jackhammering heat.


© 2015 by Kenneth Lowe. Reprint with credit. Contact the author at nixonhacker at gmail dot com.

Forgotten Autumn – Chapter 1

Forgotten Autumn

by Kenneth Lowe


1

It got so desperate, and the polls so close (and so nasty) that Rick took me aside and in that slick and smooth and totally insincere way he had, told me that I was getting an important job: LeBlanc.

“This could make or break her, Johnny,” he lied, and would lie to Marcy and Diana, who were waiting outside after me to be given DeKalb and Oswego respectively, two other places that would neither make nor break anybody, least of all Wendy. “That’s why I need you.”

Rick was – Rick is – a guy whose dick is in your face day and night, figuratively and in my case very nearly literally, as he is 6′ 5″ and I barely clear 5′ 7″. If that is not a great image, well, try working for him. But, and I observe this as an expatriate, he fit right in to the country at that time.

I was too young to remember too much about Clinton (42, not 45), but I remember being eight and suddenly having his goddamn dick in my fucking face, everywhere, such that even Animaniacs had to change its opener. And it’s never the fault of the dick’s owner, you’ll notice. He shrugs and shakes his head, all like “What can you even do?” We’re all just along for the ride. We can try for a dick forecast, but you really never know.

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Branching pathways

So, my quest to create this samurai game continues. I recently plunged in again, this time designing an inn in the first town players are likely to discover if they approach the game carefully.

And man, is it demanding. As I said, I’m designing the game around a strict Choose Your Own Adventure limitation. In practice, this presents some programming hurdles, most prominently that I am unaware of any way in which players will be able to save their progress if they aren’t 1.) on the world map, or 2.) specifically prompted to do so by the game.

RPG Maker VX Ace simply doesn’t have a built-in way to save mid-event. I tried a solution somebody posted online and it promptly fried my save files in what was among the most hilariously disastrous bugs I have ever uncovered while designing a game.

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Holy crap, I’m back

I can’t read Fifty Shades out loud, guys, are you crazy? I’ve gone legit. I have principals to staff, events to set up, the state budget to worry about, and, you know, those wife and kids I don’t have. Or something.

The quality on this and the next few videos are, I’m sorry to say, not going to be as good as when Hugh was behind the trigger. That’ll change as I can afford slightly better equipment and lighting. For now, you get clashing compact fluorescent lighting and either Daylight Savings Time After Work Night-Hell or milky daylight with the background of an unfurnished apartment. THIS IS CINEMA VERITÉ.

I also wrote 1,000 words tonight, and in not an unreasonable amount of time. That is very little to write, but for me it’s a watershed moment. With the move and with my general malaise in the end of the era that was my previous temporary job, that’s 1,000 more words than I’ve written in one sitting in months. I might even hit the gym tomorrow.

And yes, I am going to see the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. Fuck you. You did this to me!

Too much creativity

World map

I’m not even touching procedural world map generation. | 2015. Kenneth Lowe via RPG Maker VX Ace.

 

My job duties officially come to an end just this week, and it looked as if I would have some time to contemplate the future and wander the earth again.

Alas, no. I was just finished with a great workout session with a friend when I realized I had at some point gotten a call with a job offer. It’ll mean a move down to Springfield, but it’s some stability after years without it. Debts will be paid off. I’ll have ready access to friends I hardly ever see anymore. The savings account will grow.

So: Better focus on getting some real writing done, or it won’t ever get done. Fortunately, I have plenty of stuff I actually care about that I’m working on.

The past week, in between job apps and lying in a fetal position consumed with fear over continuing to write my loathsome novel, I have been tinkering with RPG Maker VX Ace. It’s a program that essentially provides you the ability to create a cooker-cutter JRPG. Unless, of course, you get creative with coding. Then you can pretty much make it do whatever the hell you like.

In messing around with another game idea, I discovered, to my great delight, that I possessed enough know-how to make the game become a rudimentary text Choose Your Own Adventure-type game in the tradition of the superb Lone Wolf books. I discovered this while I was down in Colombia (if I remember right), but I never did very much with it. The game I designed began to get too cluttered, and my inspirations for it competed with one another. Ultimately, I had an idea for the story and the execution of it, but I was making it too big: Six character classes, a sprawling story, dungeon after dungeon, nearly a dozen weapon and equipment categories, dozens of spells and abilities for the characters, and on and on.

It was with a ludicrous amount of enthusiasm that I came up with my current idea: A focused adventure game set in Japan’s Warring States period (late 16th century – a favorite setting for Kurosawa’s films). The player takes control of a party of four adventurers – a samurai, a monk, a ninja, and a Shinto priestess – who return to find the castle of their lord sacked and everybody dead. One of the daimyo competing for leadership of Japan is surely to blame, but which?

The object of the game is simple:

  1. Find your lord’s killer.
  2. Kill him.
  3. Commit seppuku to join your lord in death.

If you fail, you of course commit seppuku out of shame. To be clear: Victory = Seppuku, Defeat = Seppuku. It’s the fine distinctions that truly matter in life.

Besides the obvious Lone Wolf books, the game has a couple of strong influences, ones I think I’ll be able to incorporate while keeping the overall scope of the game fairly narrow. The first is Darklands, a ’90s computer RPG that takes quite a while to fully describe. In it, you control a four-person party of Germans in 15th Century Germany as they pretty much wander around and sword-stab or magic the shit out of people who look at them funny. I think you can kill some demon lord to beat the game, but it’s so aimless that it feels like Skyrim but without a main quest. It is, to be as fair to it as I can be, fucking impenetrable: Stats so hair-split that you can have a character who can speak Latin but not German, a randomly-generated map, no clear indication of what derived stats are derived from and how any of them allow you to cast spells, &c.

But man, that choice-based navigation! It essentially cuts down on a bunch of development. Rather than stress over creating environments the game put up illustrations with text and gave you choices. In battle, you went to a turn-based sort of environment and you saw the fights play out, and moving on the world map was also animated, but that’s because those two actions really couldn’t work in the same text-and-image-based environment as simple adventuring. It’s that approach I want to take with this game.

Another major influence is The Consuming Shadow, a game by Ben Croshaw, widely known as Yahtzee for his hilarious video game reviews. Croshaw also programs on the side, and his game, beta stage though it may be in, is a solid concept. You play as a paranoid British shut-in who has determined that fucking C’thulu is about to invade our reality. You must drive throughout an England enveloped in Lovecraftian evil as your sanity decreases, using scarce resources and quick thinking to try to gather enough clues to perform a banishing ritual. But what if you banish the wrong C’thulu?

The game is notable not just for its unsettling aesthetic, but also because it has an underlying logic structure the player must investigate. Each C’thulu is associated with a color, a rune, and a divine duty. As you rove around fighting evil, you discover clues like “[Some C’Thulu] is NOT associated with the color red” or “[Other C’thulu] is NOT the invading god.” I have played through to the end and reasoned the incorrect C’thulu, thus damning my dimension to eternal tentacle-rape.

It’s this logic-web I’d like to apply to the adventure of the four dishonored ronin as they try to figure out which of three daimyo had their lord killed and his damn house burned down. I’ve even figured out how to populate each of these fiendish lords with the variables that determine which castle, battle, and province they are associated with. The difficulty, of course, will be figuring out how in the bloody stool of Vishnu to get those clues spread out across the world. It seems like using arrays or matrices could help, but I have no effing clue how to write such code, since I am only using the editor that comes with RMVXA.

I plan to show off some more cool parts of this game. I’ve already designed the first area, including random item pick ups, a randomly-timed event, and even *gasp* a moral choice. What will I think of next?

Cold as balls

image

Yeah, yeah. Real original, I know. | Kenneth Lowe via LG smartphone and Weather.com app

It is relentlessly, mercilessly cold out right now, but it is fortuitous all the same, since a friend passed me some supremely useful criticisms of my latest short story, another one dealing with the detective, Blackdale. I’ve posted his first story here.

This harrowing tale finds him in the midst of a theft investigation set against the backdrop of an awful winter, written largely while I was actually in Colombia, where there is no such thing as an awful winter. The story had several problems with it that I am working through, with my friend’s assistance.

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The Revelation of Kung Fu

“Seconds Cover” by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Original image here. | Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

 


Thanks to my brother and his wife for their Christmas/birthday gift of Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley, he of Scott Pilgrim fame. It’s not nearly as epic a read (in the sense of length), but it had things to say that resonated with me. Sometimes you need that more than another paperback about dragons and magic. (Which I’m also currently reading, guiltily.)

I needed a break from writing about stuff for the past month, since it has been pretty crazy. I have work-coming-to-an-end-stress, family stress, holiday stress, and creative stress, so the blog just needed to not happen for a bit. I plan to unveil a bit more about what I wrote about my grandfather in the near future, but for right now, I am much more excited to be embarking upon a new project with somebody who has been a great help to me in crafting a keepsake for friends. I have to mention something about it here, because it is just plain ludicrous the degree of labor I’ve put into it.

A great long while ago, I ran a Dungeons & Dragons campaign with some good friends downstate. We had a ridiculous amount of fun, and I even met several new people through it. Since it came to an end a couple of years ago, I have felt nostalgia like no other. In part to give a keepsake to my badass party members and in part to assuage these yearnings, I slowly set about creating a book of the campaign. Key to this was the addition of some art. Sadly, none of our players really drew any of us while we were playing, so in addition to sketches of maps and notes I’d made about the adventure already, I figured I should commission some art revealing our characters.

I’d love to reveal some of the art I used, but the fact is I paid for single-use for it and I don’t want to make it available to anybody on the internet who can Google Image search. The point, however, is that I partnered with a few great artists to illustrate the work, including one who I am pleased to say I will be working with on an upcoming project.

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Up and down

Peter and Lilia Yee, ca. 1953. | Photographer Unknown

Peter and Lilia Yee, ca. 1953. | Photographer Unknown

It has been a trying past couple of weeks. I plan to write a bit more about it very soon, but my grandmother passed away last week. It set me on a long period of rushing back and forth, which was compounded by the wedding I then had to go to the day after her funeral and a looming medical procedure. Through it all, writing has fallen to the wayside, but I’m hoping to find the endurance to get back into it this weekend. More updates to come.

NaNoWriMo Day 30 – Victory!

And so, it is complete. I have defeated NaNoWriMo for only the second time in my life. Yesterday I rather fittingly decided to hunker down at the same Panera Bread where I beat it a day early all the way back in 2008, though this was one of the few times when I could have done so over the past few years – I’ve been all over the place since then. Last November found me in Colombia, the several before that found me in Central Illinois as a reporter. The very first one I defeated happened just as Barack Obama won election to the presidency the first time, and now here we are miles into his second term.

I have a few observations about this go-round. Firstly, I feel okay about what it is I wrote. I have the distinct feeling some things will ultimately be done away with, but I also feel as if the greater majority will remain. This writing also helped me get through a deeply muddy time in the book, when literally every character is moving in concert and it becomes difficult to keep them all straight. That is going to be a major difficulty moving forward, but it’s also important that it be done: The story is partly one of a town, and not just the three main characters. Some advice a girlfriend (at the time) told me was that I should peel back the other stuff, and she’s right. I think I overdid it in some scenes, but cutting is easier than producing, and if we must cut later, then we will.

Writing this in concert with reading The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub was also weirdly instructive in a few ways:

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