Game Review – Breath of the Wild [No Spoilers]

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: What I Really Learned in Study by Ice Nine)

I have been waiting all summer to do this.

As always, my review won’t spoil anything but the premise of the game, but still, if you haven’t heard anything at all, maybe wait until you’ve started the game to read this.

Okay, let’s go.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Legend of Zelda series, but this game in particular is just incredible. I can’t even begin to describe all the things that make it brilliant, but I’m going to try.

So let’s start with the obvious – Breath of the Wild is unlike any other LoZ game before it. It’s an open-world RPG instead of a dungeon crawler like many of the previous Zelda games; it employs stealth mechanics and ways to bypass 95% of the combat in the game if the player chooses to; and it has jumping.

Jumping. In a Zelda game.

Folks who’ve never played any Legend of Zelda game will not really understand what this means, but it’s pretty significant. The platforming aspect of the game is entirely changed by the fact that Link can now jump, climb, and swim in virtually everything in the game.

Other traditions of both gaming and LoZ are turned on their heads in this game, as well. Breath of the Wild employs a cast of characters that can, maybe for the first time in any game I’ve ever played, be called well and truly diverse. There are effeminate men and tough-as-nails women; there’s gender-bending in several memorable scenes; there are people of all colors and from all sorts of backgrounds; and they all mix perfectly here. It’s one of the few games I would say truly embraces feminism, too.

Breath of the Wild also contains one of the largest maps of any game to date. It is bigger than any single game in the Elder Scrolls series, and certainly bigger than any previous installment of The Legend of Zelda in terms of playable area. A good video game will give you forty to fifty hours of play. This one gave me one hundred and eighty.

The Legend of Zelda series has been unique to me in that it is one of the few series where I actually want to go out and explore. If you’re making me track down Ben Franklin’s journal entries in Assassin’s Creed or Riddler trophies in Arkham Knight, you’re slowly killing me inside. But despite the fact that Breath of the Wild has over 75 side quests, 120 fast-travel points, and 900 (yeah, nine fucking hundred) collectibles… seeing something new on the horizon is intriguing, and discovering it is rewarding in a way that I really haven’t seen done in any other game.

(And no, I didn’t collect all 900 seeds. But I got over 600, and I wasn’t even really trying to find them.)

If you haven’t played any of The Legend of Zelda series, but you like RPGs, this is a great one to start with. If you, like me, hate RPGs, this is still an incredible game to play by sheer nature of the fact that discovery and action in this game are so incredibly satisfying. There are multiple ways to engage with enemies, from freezing them in time and bashing on them with a heavy weapon, to picking them off with arrows from afar, to sneak-striking them in stealthy after stealthy assassination. When you get bored of one strategy, you can just switch to another, and though the in-game rewards for exterminating a pocket of enemies are minimal, the sheer feeling of getting to be a badass – in your own unique playstyle – is all the reward a player could need.

There are only a few things that keep this game from a perfect score for me. And this is hard for me to say, because this game is my second favorite of all the Legend of Zelda games, and definitely my favorite RPG of all time (not that there’s much competition in that category).

The first flaw was in the ammunition system. One of the really interesting things about BotW is that you’re always switching weapons. In any other LoZ game, you only ever use the one sword given to you – the Master Sword – and, while you can do this after a certain point in the game in BotW, the incentive not to do it is so much greater. There are over a hundred weapons – which break frequently – giving you a reason to keep picking up and trying out new blades. And while this is kind of fun in the beginning, it starts to bug you at certain points where you’re fighting a big enemy and it literally wipes your whole arsenal clean.

Related to that, you can buy different types of arrows at shops, but they only restock infrequently. I’m not sure whether they stock on a given in-game clock, or when you start running low on arrows, but either way. As a preferred bowman, I found myself using arrows every opportunity I could, and while I never ran out of the specialty arrows I kept hording for a special occasion, I found myself almost out of regular arrows about once every in-game week. Not being able to buy more, despite having ample funds to, was kind of annoying.

The other thing is more of a gripe I have about the entire LoZ franchise, which is that the bosses are too easy. In this game especially, with the hours and hours of exploration that came between each dungeon and boss fight, I really wanted there to be some difficult fights in my way. But (and I know this was mostly because I did far too much exploration and leveled way too much between dungeons) none of the boss fights ever challenged me, especially the final boss fight. And that isn’t unique to Breath of the Wild; if you play any LoZ game and do even a little more than the main missions, you usually don’t have a difficult time with bosses.

Third and finally, the story. I was enchanted with the story, the way things were set up and the promise of the final reveal. And I will not spoil anything here, but suffice to say… I wanted more. With such phenomenal storylines in other Legend of Zelda games like Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, and Majora’s Mask, I really felt like there could have been an expansion on the story in this game to match that level of depth and emotionality.

Reed’s Rating: 9.9/10

(And just for comparison, I’m giving scores of the other Legend of Zelda games I’ve played:)

Ocarina of Time: 9.8/10

Majora’s Mask: 9.9/10

Wind Waker: 9.9/10

Twilight Princess: 10/10

You may hate on me for loving Twilight Princess the most, but hey. We can all agree these games are better than 99% of the other crap out there. I’m really splitting hairs here.

So in all seriousness, if you haven’t played this game, you need to. Like immediately. It’s actually worth buying a Switch for.

Yours, working on Phantom Hourglass next,

-R. R. Buck

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Back With a New Writing Tip!

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: This mix of Breath of the Wild music)

I’m beat.

But in the good way, like an egg or a video game. It’s my first day back working for the UCLA library, and I went from doing 20 hours a week last year to doing 32 (four 8-hour days) this year. I’m realizing now that this is the first official 9-to-5 job I’ve had in my entire life.

I can’t say for countless weeks in the future, but right now I feel pretty good. I got up at 7:45 this morning, had breakfast and made lunch for work, spent the next eight hours there, and then came back to lab where I’m writing this. There’s something a little bit wonderful about the mundanity of everyday working life, and something equally a little bit infuriating about not working like I did for the past four months. All in all, I’m really glad to be back.

But the whole thing has gotten me thinking about change, and what it means for us. I’m a little bit too tired to get philosophical right now, but pragmatically (in the psychological way), change can mean an enormous difference in attitude and willpower. When we make a change in our lives for the better and stick to it, we can really feel its effect on our ability to cope. When we fall by the wayside, it can bring other areas of our life down as well.

So what does that mean for writing? I’m considering it as I’m writing in lab, thinking about every other time that I wrote in lab, and how easy it was for me to write entire chapters while waiting for fish to acclimate or experiments to run. It made me kind of realize how the change I made – from writing on my laptop at home to writing on my work computer in lab – made it really easy for me to stick to a semi-rigorous schedule.

So here’s the tip I have. I don’t think it will work for absolutely every writer out there, or even the majority, but maybe it will reach a few of you who are like me.

If you’re the kind of person who wants to write every day, but then comes home every day from work/school/other crap and gets super exhausted on the walk/ride/drive back, consider staying where you are and trying to write before you get back home. Find a computer somewhere – on your school campus, a laptop you bring with you to class, even your work computer – and designate it as your writing computer.

Your writing computer can have other functions too, but make sure there’s one that sticks out in your mind – that every single day, after you’ve finished your duties but before you make the commute back home, you go on this computer and write. Maybe just 500 words on the days you’re well and truly exhausted. Maybe 1,000 if you’re feeling decent. Maybe 5,000 if you’re in a great mood. But every day, take that computer and work a little bit on it.

I’m being serious, remembering from when I wrote every day over the summer – you will be astonished how fast you can finish a writing project if you can write every day. It’s incredible watching your project finally take form on the page (or the Google Doc).

I’m going to try to do it every day. I get up, I go to work, I come back to lab (even if I’m not experimenting), and I write. 500 words can take you fifteen minutes, and if you don’t have fifteen minutes to spare in your average day, you’re doing something wrong.

THERE I SAID IT. COME AT ME.

But in all seriousness, give it a shot. You know you can do it. I know you can do it. Your mother knows you can do it.

Hell, Tommy Wiseau did it.

Let’s get writing, bitches.

Yours, preparing himself for the EPIC REVIEW OF BOTW TOMORROW,

-R. R. Buck

Reed’s Top 3: Writing Shortcomings

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: A Broken Jar by La Dispute)

So, I’m heading on another vacation this coming week. (Benefits of having divorced parents.) So I’d like to leave you all with something to think about during that time. Something… horrifying.

Self-criticism is the key to learning and growing as an author, and while there’s no shortage of self-criticism on my blog, I think it would be nice for me to organize the biggest problems I have in my writing right now, so that everyone can reflect on them. After all, some of these (let’s be honest, all of these) are “new writer mistakes”. So if you think it’s all about me, well… you’re right. But you could still learn something.

(As a matter of fact, I was only thinking about this because of a brunch meeting I had with a friend and fellow writer to talk about her own work! So I’m spreading it around.)

It’s hard to pick just three, but here are the top shortcomings in my writing:

NUMBER THREE: CHARACTER INTERACTIONS

I’m at a point where, in my own estimation at least, my characters are getting better and better, more concrete and less boring. But somehow in spite of that, their interactions can sometimes be off. I notice several specific things I do – including, but not limited to, giving exposition through dialogue, overexplaining a character’s emotional state, and not leaving enough left to the imagination in character interactions – that make my dialogue sometimes feel like it’s just a device for explaining what’s going on to my reader. Good dialogue does all of that without feeling like a tool.

NUMBER TWO: DESCRIPTIONS

God, I hate writing descriptions. I’m not a very artistic person, for the most part, and I’m not very good at describing things around me even as I’m experiencing them. I don’t think I’m a very visual learner, and anytime I try to picture something in my mind, it usually doesn’t come out very well. Plus, I hate reading descriptions in other people’s books (which is why I never – gasp – finished LOTRThe Hobbit, or anything by Charles Fucking Dickens) because, to me, it’s just filler between the things I care about like story and character interactions. So, you might imagine that I write terrible descriptions myself due to being unable to picture settings and people and loathe to describe them in the first place. And you would imagine correctly.

NUMBER ONE: PACING

Holy hell, I cannot seem to get this right. But I’m taking solace in the fact that other new writers seem to find difficulties here too. When I start a project, whether it’s a short story or a novel (although it’s worse for novels), I oftentimes have a few major plot points I want to get through, and those plot points are usually the end of each act of the work. But in between those things – well, I don’t know what to say. I try to escalate towards the climactic moment I’ve envisioned; I attempt to introduce subplots and interesting character moment; I hope not to write too much. And yet at the end it still comes out feeling like one ever-so-glacial buildup to the moment we’ve been waiting for the last 50,000 words.

I want to ask out to anyone who might care to comment – how do you deal with pacing in your work? Do you have everything outlined, or do you find the pacing is better when it just flows out of you at random? What tricks do you use to make sure everything escalates in a timely way without losing character interaction, subplots, and worldbuilding?

Help pls.

Anyway, that’s me. Time for you to think about your biggest shortcomings – not flaws, not things wrong with you, but challenges for you to consider and overcome in your next project. Remember, that positivity has to be there the whole time you’re thinking about this.

Yours, sweating… so… much….

-R.R. Buck

Streed of Consciousness [Part 6 – My Phobia]

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Believer by Imagine Dragons)

You know, I sat down at the computer with an open page and no idea what to write, and as my mind drifted through my recent experiences, I remembered the recurring dream I’ve been having every night for the past week or two.

It always happens a little differently, but there’s one element conserved throughout all of them – in each and every dream, I lose my tooth.

This story goes back to high school, when I was (in ninth grade, I think) in P.E. class playing badminton. Some douchebag whose name is now forever lost to my memory went back to swing without looking behind him and struck me in the mouth with his racket. About a third of my front right tooth chipped and came off.

The first thing I thought was my mom’s voice in my head after my little brother had chipped his tooth falling on a trampoline: Make sure you grab the piece of tooth and put it in milk!

So I went to the nurse’s office and did just that, and within a few hours I was at my dentist’s office. There, they promptly glued the piece of my tooth back into my mouth, warned me something about discoloration, and sent me on my way. And I didn’t really think about it any more after that – it was just a cool story to tell my friends.

My tooth chipped twice more after that – once in my junior year of college, and once just a few weeks ago while I was on vacation. In my junior year (on Valentine’s Day, too) I managed to make a same-day appointment with a dentist here in Westwood to get my tooth glued back together, and I was home and looking dapper for my anniversary with my girlfriend.

But abroad, there was no way I could keep my tooth from discoloring over the several days I had left in France, and at that point it seemed like there needed to be a more permanent solution put in place. Somehow, I got it in my head that I needed a veneer – I didn’t really know what they were, but I did know they required a novocaine shot.

Let’s step into another story for a brief second. I’ve always been kind of nervous around needles, but what solidified it for me as a real, honest-to-god phobia was when I was in middle school. My mouth is weird – weirder than anybody’s mouth ought to be – and part of that weirdness came in the form of a enamel deposit, kind of like a half-tooth, that formed between my baby tooth and my adult tooth on my front left side. This half-tooth prevented my adult tooth from migrating downward and making my baby tooth fall out, so if no action were to be taken, I would have had one baby tooth in my mouth as an adult.

So instead, they decided it was best to perform oral surgery to remove my baby tooth and the half-tooth up in my gum. And that required – you guessed it – a novocaine shot.

I’m probably misremembering, but I recall the pain of that shot being one of the worst pains I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’ve never broken a bone, never had any serious injury done to me in all the years I can remember, so I don’t have a lot of an understanding of real pain. But still, that impossibly long moment of having a needle up in my gum… well, it makes my skin crawl just writing about it.

So, jumping back to two weeks ago when my tooth came out on vacation and I realized I needed a novocaine shot, you can imagine what that did for me. It got really hard to enjoy my last few days abroad, and when I came back to the U.S., I was even worse. Not a day would go by that I wouldn’t make some sort of half-joke, half-cry-for-help to friends or labmates about “getting a giant needle in my gum”.

Skipping ahead again, I was sitting in the dentist’s chair just under two weeks ago, waiting for the doctor to come in and tell me whether I needed a veneer. My mom had briefly ignited my hopes by telling me there might be an option that didn’t require novocaine, but I wasn’t about to pretend the reality wasn’t there. One of my worst fears was facing me, and making it even worse was that whatever radio station they tuned to in the dentist office was playing – not once, but twice in fifteen minutes – “Believer” by Imagine Dragons.

If you haven’t been waiting in a dentist’s chair to see if you’re going to relive your worst nightmare, and meanwhile the singer for Imagine Dragons is singing “PAAAAIN”, you haven’t known true fear.

I don’t want to keep you for much longer, so I’m just gonna say I didn’t get the needle. There was too much of my tooth left intact, and so they suggested something called a “composite bonding”. But sitting there, literally sweating all over the dentist’s chair waiting to hear a verdict, I realized something.

People are dicks about phobias.

That same stigma with which many people treat mental illness, people use on phobias. I remember my little brother telling me he thought I was making it up when we were kids; I remember the way my friends used to pretend it wasn’t a big deal; and I very much remember how just two weeks ago the dentist seemed to brush aside my concerns when I asked him about whether a composite bond requires a novocaine shot.

I can’t say it enough, y’all – phobias are real, and they’re intense. Like other psychological issues, they’re not grounded in reality, so for God’s sake don’t tell a phobic that they need to “get over it”. Just indulge them when they want to worry, and distract them when it seems like they’re worrying it too much.

(And if you think that it’s easy to just force yourself into dealing with your phobia and getting over it, remember that I got three tattoos and I still cry when I get my blood drawn. So no, it’s not that easy.)

Yours, a man who will gladly die of rabies before getting a rabies shot,

-R.R. Buck

Get Motivated!

(Reed’s playlist for the occasion: Imagine Dragons does T-Swift)

I am feeling pretty great right now.

I’m writing this in my apartment, having just eaten a smoothie bowl (chocolate banana, homemade granola) and done *most* of the dishes that have accumulated over the past few days from myself and my roommates. Earlier today, I wrote a little bit – just 1500 words, but since I hadn’t written in the past week and a half, it feels like a victory – as well as finishing Summerland, the subject of my last book review.

This is a lot more productive than I usually am.

And yesterday went just as well, with even more things on my plate. For some reason, after a long summer of up and down, I’ve gotten back into that efficacious mentality. And maybe it’s because I can see the end of things – I’ll be employed again for the fall in about two to three more weeks – or maybe it’s the post-vacation laziness leaving me.

But it could also be this post I read on Reddit the other day, which (at the risk of sounding overdramatic) I want to say changed a lot for me in terms of perspective. If you have a spare few minutes, I’d recommend you read the post, as well as the top comment directly below it.

If you don’t have the time, here’s the tl;dr:

User maxstolfe talks about how they can’t seem to find the motivation to do well. They’re in college and their grades are in that perfectly mediocre C range; they have things they want to do but they can’t seem to summon up the energy to do them; and although they feel guilty about not doing anything, it’s never enough guilt to actually do something about it.

The top comment, by user ryans01, is full of positivity and strategies for making the most out of each day. It got 83 Reddit gold (if you’re not familiar, Reddit gold costs real money, so multiple people spent their money to upvote this comment). In his comment, ryans01 outlined four good strategies:

  1. No zero days. Try your hardest to do a tiny bit, every day, to move yourself towards your goals. If you can’t run a mile, run a few hundred meters. If you can’t write an entire chapter, write a few hundred words. Just do a little bit every single day to propel yourself, to keep that momentum going.
  2. Be thankful to the three you’s. Past you is responsible for everything good in your life right now; be sure to thank past you every single time something goes right for you. Present you is going to help future you have an even better existence – so try your utmost to keep holding up the tradition and do things today that will benefit you in the future.
  3. Forgive yourself. If you slip up one day, or a week, or a month, forgive yourself for not doing the most you can. You can’t move forward to having a non-zero day if you don’t forgive yourself for all the previous zero days. Nobody is superhuman, and sometimes you’ll fall by the wayside, but if you’re able to let that go, you can start making progress again.
  4. Exercise and books. Exercise your body, exercise your mind. It makes you feel better overall, keeps you learning, and can be the inspiration for even better changes to come. Plus it’s just a healthy habit to be in. (To be honest, the exercise is the part that’s the hardest for me, but hey, maybe I’ll go for a run today. Like I said, I’m feeling good.)

It’s hard to keep motivated, and I know this better than anyone. I don’t consider myself the absolute laziest piece of shit, but there are areas in my life that need improvement, and I’m going to do everything I can to make each day a non-zero day.

It seems like most of what I’ve been posting recently has been motivation materials for other struggling writers. I know it’s because I’ve been going through so much of that myself. So do yourself a favor and check out that post (it’s much more eloquently written than my summary) and also check out some of my other motivational posts. Here, I’ll even put them a click away. Here, here, here, here, here.

And then get to it, dude. Get straight to writing, because today is gonna be the first non-zero day of the rest of your life.

Yours, stoked as hell,

-R.R. Buck

Book Review: Summerland

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Salty Eyes by the Matches)

I usually don’t write reviews for books I haven’t finished yet, but in this case I’m making an exception because I’ve read Summerland a few times as a kid. It’s been about ten years since I last read it, and I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to the hype I remember.

It did.

Title: Summerland

Author: Michael Chabon

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Premise: A trio of twelve-year-old kids find themselves suddenly immersed in a fantasy realm known as Summerland where all the fairy folk of lore make their home. Searching for one of the kids’ dads, who has been kidnapped by the trickster god Coyote, the children find that in order to successfully navigate the realm of Summerland, they must recognize their own abilities, both in magic… and baseball.

Summerland was one of those one-off books I found as a kid while checking out almost every book at my library and making monthly trips to Barnes & Noble. It falls into that category of “middle grade books who seem, in retrospect, a lot more adult and complicated than they once appeared”. The book follows not only the children but also the father, Mr. Feld, as his kidnappers take him through the faerie world; it speaks a lot to the various types of relationships parents can have with their children, and how it feels to know one has fallen short as a father or as a child.

Borrowing from a plethora of folklore across various cultures, Summerland weaves a world in which baseball and magic are inexorable, and all the fairy folk from giants to ferishers to were-beasts come out onto the diamond to settle disputes. Maybe it’s just because my little brother Antelope played Little League for a really long time (I want to say four years, but it might have been longer), but I really like the way they integrated baseball into the book.

It’s also astonishingly dark for a kid’s book. There’s a fair amount of violence and unnerving content, written in a comical way to take some of the bite out of it, but still. It doesn’t pull any punches with its audience, no matter their age, and I’m certain this was one of the things that made me gravitate towards it as a kid. That, and the depth of characters and content, really seem to make this book a home run (okay, I’ll see myself out now).

I would recommend this to both adults and kids, especially smart kids and dumb adults. It’s a heart-aching exposure of the bittersweet relationship between parents who can never seem to quite be there for their children, and children who can never feel quite up to their parents’ expectations. Summerland is so full of heart and I’m glad it was a part of a childhood – and now my adulthood.

Reed’s Rating: 9/10

Yours, unsure of what book will come next,

-R.R. Buck

Back With a New Writing Strategy!

(Reed’s Playlist for the day: Back in the Saddle by Aerosmith)

Hi, everyone. Miss me?

Okay, okay, I owe you all an apology. I took way too long of a break from this blog after I got back from Europe about a week and a half ago. In my defense, there were three birthday parties – one of them my own – in the last week, and I was pretty busy, but still, it doesn’t take more than an hour at most to post.

My life is kind of run by the principles of inertia and momentum. When I get myself started, I keep moving along, churning out words at a pretty good rate and making myself happy with my productivity – but then something will bring about a disruption, and after that point, I have to put so much effort in just to hop back on the path.

So, that should be a lesson to me – and in extension, to you – about writing, or honestly about any creative project you’re planning on pursuing. Take a leaf out of Shia’s book and JUST…. DO IT. I still think one of the hardest things to do as a writer is write every day, but getting yourself in a rhythm can do wonders for your writing experience. And, barring even that, just starting that project that’s been sitting in your head for the past few months can initiate good forward momentum.

Seriously. Do it right now after reading this. Write even five hundred words – I swear it won’t take longer than a half an hour. And if your writing is good, you’ll want to write more. Push yourself to create.

In the name of that forward momentum, I’d like to share an idea my older brother Ram shared with me when we were abroad. Knowing him, it’s probably backed up by a bunch of famous authors and literary theorists. He said that you really only need three things to start a writing project: a premise in the form of a short sentence telling you what the first event of the plot is (and no more), a purpose statement describing what you’re show the reader through your work, and a character – just the one protagonist – whose personality you should know fairly well.

Premise, purpose statement, character. The premise and the character will work together to form the story, which will require new elements – new plot points, new characters, situations, locations, et cetera. And whenever you add in a new element, you refer back to your purpose statement – does the new element help further that statement or theme you’re trying to express? If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t be putting in that element.

To any of my fellow writers who are, like me, planners in the extreme – you know who you are, with your detailed outlines and your every piece of backstory already written before you even set pen to paper – I’d like you to indulge me in trying this method. It’s going to be weird for both of us, but I feel like when we’re at this early  stage in writing, we need to try a bunch of different ways before we settle on something that works for us.

So I’m setting forward on a new work, something I thought of relatively recently and am trying not to overthink. I don’t have a title right now, but I do have those three things which I’ll share with you:

Premise – A group of adolescents live in a city where every single person has a form of mental illness, and this is considered the norm – until they find out that their “city” is actually a massive asylum meant to keep them separate from the “normal” folk.

Purpose Statement – What we define as “wellness” is not an adequate description for wellness.

Character – The protagonist of this story is a new kid who is thrown into the asylum-city despite having no mental illness.

I’m putting aside my little side project, Sordid Tales, for this new big one, and I’ll keep you updated on the progress. But my challenge to you still stands – try a project, even a short story, without the outlining and the overanalyzing and the plot-making, just this once. And let me know how it goes!

It’s good to be back.

Yours, already half a chapter in,

-R.R. Buck

Heading On Vacation!

(Reed’s Playlist for today: I Want You Back by the Jackson 5)

First off, I believe some congratulations are in order.

Anyone who finished Camp NaNoWriMo today, you are my hero and someday I’ll be joining you. Take a much-needed rest, pop the champagne (or Martinelli’s), and get back on the horse as soon as you’re able to stomach the sight of your computer/typewriter/pad of paper again.

Second, I just wanted to let all my lovely readers know that I’ll be on vacation for the next two weeks. Where? WOULDN’T YOU LIKE TO KNOW.

But in all sincerity, while I do not believe anyone would be stalking me through my blog, I’m trying to learn to limit the amount of information I put out about trips at least until after I take them. Suffice to say it will be a very new location for me, and I hope to gain some interesting cultural experience that I can funnel into my writing after coming back.

You’ll have to find some other crappy blog to entertain you during these next two weeks. I know, I know, it’ll be hard to find something with that right blend of run-on sentences, unsolicited opinions, and sarcasm, but I believe in you.

I love you all, those of you who still continue to read. Okay, well, I love all of you, but I love my continued readers more.

Have a wonderful two weeks and I’ll be back before you know it.

Yours, wishing he spoke the language of the country he was visiting,

-R.R. Buck

What To Do Between Major Writing Projects

(Reed’s Playlist for the day: Photograph by Def Leppard)

So if you didn’t see two posts ago, I finished Symphony of Legend, my high fantasy novel. And oftentimes (or at least every time I’ve finished a project before this one), I get the last words on paper and I go on a multi-month hiatus from writing of any kind. Usually, it’s under the pretext of wanting to wait so I can jump right into editing the novel I just finished.

I’ve decided that I’m wrong for doing things that way.

There are a few reasons why. First, the reason why we need to wait several months in between finishing a first draft and starting a second is so that we can look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. If all we did during that interim month or two is sit around, play videogames, and think about the novel, then we really aren’t going to be looking at it with fresh eyes. However, if we’re writing something else in the interim period, we will definitely be taken away from the mindset of the previous project and, upon returning to it, we will be able to see with less bias and more clear evaluative thought process.

The second reason is that being a new writer means trying out a bunch of different writing styles, and the middle of a serious project is the perfect time to start a not-so-serious one. If you’re anything like me, you have ideas for stories that range from an epic series all the way down to a cute and low-maintenance short novel. If you’re not like me, chances are you still have ideas that are occupying the forefront of your mind, and some that occupy the back.

When we dig out these back ideas, we allow ourselves to obey the maxim of the writer’s profession – WRITE EVERY DAY – without making it super stressful on ourselves. Since we don’t care about them as much, we can have fun with them, experimenting with new styles, POVs, and tones. And it’s a great feeling of accomplishment to finish a story even while you’re waiting for your previous story to cool on the windowsill.

So, at the very least, that’s what I’m trying to do right now. I just finished Symphony and I’m working on a new idea I’ve had for a little while, the working title of which is Sordid Tales of a Callous Reaper. It’s going to be a low-fantasy, high-sarcasm novel which combines dark themes and light humor in the Pratchet-esque fashion. As a matter of fact, for any Discworld readers out there, it’s intended to be kind of like Mort if Mort were a Pixar film.

I’ll keep you all updated through the process – whether writing of any kind burns me out during this period, whether I feel more refreshed when coming back to edit Symphony after I finish Sordid Tales, and whether I think it is overall helpful to toggle projects like this. All I know is, Brandon Sanderson wrote Mistborn as a throwaway side series while he was working on his Stormlight Archives, and many other authors have given the advice to move on to a new project for a few months after you finish an old one.

Remember, screw what I say and screw what the world says; it’s about what works for you. But for any people finishing up Camp NaNoWriMo, I challenge you to try something similar – take a bit of time when you’re at your most exhausted to work on something lighthearted that you don’t have to stress out about as much, and see how it changes your editing experience.

As always, if you’ve tried this out or had experience in this area, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Yours, enjoying the snark of his new project,

-R.R. Buck

Teaser Chapter – Sordid Tales of a Callous Reaper (Low Fantasy Novella)

Mark O’Shaughnessy sits alone at the bar, finishing his fifth whiskey rocks in as many minutes. He grimaces as the drink goes down his throat; one thick-knuckled hand lifts to brush greasy strands of black hair back from his granite face. He snaps his fingers at the bartender for another drink, in the 4 AM twilight of serious alcoholism.

The bartender ambles over, a strangely genteel person to be catering to Boston’s late night drinkers. He has a strong southern drawl and a punchable face. “Sure ya want that last one? We close up in a few, and you’ve had your share already for sure.”

Mark glances up at the man who stands between him and the counter of dimly lit bottles at the back of the bar. He notices for the first time the tacky blue-and-yellow sign that says, “If you ain’t drinking, you ain’t having a good time!” hanging right above the bar, casting a halo of neon light down on the bartender.

“Give me another,” he says. His voice grates.

“You got it.” The bartender pulls a bottle from the top shelf this time, delivering the last drink with a flourish. “No additional cost,” he says, winking. “My pops always said a man’s final drink of the night should be smoothest.”

Mark cracks a smile on the corner of his lip. “Thanks,” he says, lifting the glass to his lips. The whiskey tastes like fire and forgetfulness.

“So, what are you up to on this fine morning?” the bartender asks, taking the empty lowball and washing it under the bar.

“Just got out of prison.” There are more signs, now that Mark is lifting his head – more blaring neon lights reading “Corona Time!” and “Designated Driver? That’s What Cabs Are For” and other such things. Their presence makes Mark shudder.

The bartender doesn’t notice as he tucks the lowball back under the bar with the others. As he stands back up, he raises an eyebrow. “Prison, huh? How long were ya in for?”

“Twenty-five to life.”

“Well, I guess you beat them on the life account, huh?” The bartender leans over the counter. “Aren’t you, uh, not supposed to be drinking when you’re on parole?”

“Yup.” Mark stands, his hand immediately going to the bar for balance. He gets his wallet on his third attempt and slaps a one hundred dollar bill on the counter. “Keep the change for the conversation,” he says.

The bartender nods to him. “You want me to call you a cab?”

Mark shakes his head, feeling delightfully numb. “No,” he says. “I want to be outside. I’ll walk.”

“Are ya sure?” the bartender calls, but Mark is already weaving his way to the door. He pushes it open, out into the cool night air, and he breathes in the dirty, piss-and-smog scent of downtown Boston. It’s been over two decades, and the city has already changed so much from what he’d remembered. New skyscrapers, new foreigners shouting to one another in their own languages, preparing to open up their family delis and their barber shops and their restaurants in the very early morning. But underneath all that, it’s still the same old Boston.

Mark closes his eyes, and when he opens them he’s slumped against the brick wall of the bar. The sun still isn’t up, so he hasn’t been here very long. He feels a little bit more sober, so he stands up and starts looking for a cab to hail. The street is still relatively empty, with only a few late-night drivers weaving around the early-morning working men. Mark holds up his hand, wobbling slightly, and waits for a cab.

He blinks again, and this time he faceplants into the street, right into the middle of an oncoming car. If it had been one of the early-morning workers, puttering along in their dusty pickups or their rundown Silverados, he might have survived the hit. But it’s a late-night driver, out with her friends after a few different bars, doing about sixty-five in the forty, whose tire comes in contact with the back of his head when he hits the pavement. Mark dies.

And that’s about the time when I get up, folding my newspaper over three times and leaving it on the table of the not-quite-yet-open restaurant just across the street. I gulp the last of my macchiato – it’s a shameful waste of a good coffee experience, but duty calls – and pack the ceramic cup away in my briefcase. A last straightening of the robe, checking for any bits of lint or debris caught in it during the wait, and I’m heading through the street to where Mark’s very confused spirit stands over his body.

I hail him from the middle of the street, raising one hand in greeting. “Hey, there, Mark!” I say.

He glances up, eyes full of fear and wonder, but then he points and yells, “Look out!”

I grin as a semi-truck bears down on me, swishes through me. I get a glimpse for a brief moment of the interior contents – twelve hundred boxes of Cheese Balls – before the truck continues on its path, and I continue on mine through the middle of the road. By the time I’ve reached Mark, he’s positively trembling.

“Oh, come on,” I say, grabbing him by the elbow. He jerks away from me.

“Are you the grim reaper?” he whispers.

Every time, they ask. And every time, I have the same answer. “You wish,” I say, starting to walk down the sidewalk. “Come on, we have to get going. Got a schedule to keep, and all that.”

“Am I dead?” he says.

I groan and turn back towards him. He’s staring down at his own body, at the jellied mess that used to be the top of his head. The party girl has stopped her car just a little bit down the road and is currently screaming at the emergency operator on 911; her friends are all in various stages of freaking out and/or sobbing hysterically.

“Yes,” I say. “You’re dead. Now can we please get out of here? I have to take you through the Veil.”

He says nothing. He’s just staring at his own body like an idiot. I tap him on the shoulder. “Hey, we have a long wait ahead of us, and you can figure all this crap out there. But for right now, can we get a move on? Huh? Remember walking? You used to do it when you were alive, with your legs and feet and stuff?”

He looks up at me. “I can’t be dead,” he says.

I slap my face, scratching my hair under the hood. “That mess of flesh says otherwise,” I say, pointing at his body.

He focuses on my hand. “Hey,” he says. “You’re not a skeleton.”

“Congratulations,” I say. “You may be the first person ever to realize that.”

“So you’re really not the grim reaper? Then… what are you?”

I sigh, looking at my watch. But he wasn’t really supposed to kick the bucket until a few minutes from now, so I guess I have a bit of time. I extend my hand, which he shakes in disbelief. “I’m Lee,” I say. “I’m a Callous Reaper. Kind of the same as a Grim, except not at all where you’re concerned.”

“I don’t… get it,” he says. Could he still be drunk? I mean, I’ve made more than my fair share of attempts to achieve intoxication as a spirit, but perhaps he’s cracked it.

I glance at my watch again. “All right, fine,” I say. “How about this. I take you to show you what’s confusing you, and I answer whatever little questions you have, and then you follow me through the Veil. Fair?”
“I….”

“Oh, for Goodness’ sake,” I snap. I pick up my radio. “Hey, Carol?”

A long burst of static issues from the thing before I hear a voice. “Lee, what are you using this line for? It’s emergency-only.”

“Yeah, well it’s an emergency. Drop won’t move unless I show him a Grim Reaper.”

“Not my issue. Overpower him.”

“Come on, Carol. Do me a favor; just tell me where the nearest Grim is. It’ll be a few minutes at most, and I’m ahead of schedule.”

“You? Ahead of schedule? Is it the Apocalypse already?”

“Ha-freaking-ha. You owe me, Carol. Remember that thing at the Christmas party…?”

A long moment of silence. “You’re a rat, Lee.”

“Please, dear, don’t insult the rats like that. Now, the nearest Grim?”

Carol sighs. “Just a sec.” The sounds of typing come through the radio.

Meanwhile, Mark is muttering something to himself. It sounds suspiciously like, “This isn’t right, this can’t be real, this can’t be happening.”

I look to him. “Let me guess. You thought death was gonna be different than life?”

He turns towards me, and his eyes are hollow. “What? I mean… it can’t be like this.

“Look around, Mark,” I say, gesturing at the worn shop fronts, the cars rolling by. “We’re not actually at death yet. You won’t follow me there. So no, what you’re looking at is life, just from the opposite end of things. And if you would just follow me into the Veil, then we would be able to get this all sorted. But no, you have to force me to call in a favor that I was really hoping to save, and all I get is this bug-eyed stare?”

He’s quiet for a moment, exemplifying perfectly the aforementioned bug-eyed stare. Then he says, “You know, you’re pretty mean for a – whatever you are.”
“Think again, Marky boy,” I say. “Remember the name? I’m a Callous Reaper.”

Carol is back on the radio. “All right, we’ve got one nearby. I’m assuming you’re at the drop location?”

“Yep.”
“Then head to South Boston. 1150 Bowen Street. You’ve got Meredith there. Better hurry up, though, she’ll only be there a few more minutes.” Carol coughs. “Some people have a sense of professionalism.”

“Coulda fooled me, with that Christmas party debacle,” I grunt into the radio before turning it off. I turn to Mark, who’s staring out into the street as distant sirens announce the approach of the ambulance. “Hey, spacy. You ready to go?”

He turns to look at me, and there’s some amount of lucidity to him. I find myself hoping that he’s finally going to cooperate.

Then he sprints off into the road.