June 22, 2012


I listen to a lot of podcasts; there are few days when I don't go through at least one.

My desire for talk radio started as a way to drown out the monotony of a summer job I had. It was brutally hot, much like now, and I was working at a shrub and tree nursery in the Okanagan. My friend Scott and I had little radios that we tuned to CBC so that our brains would be occupied while we repeatedly moved potted plants from one seemingly identical row to another.

Years later, I stumbled on podcasts while I was doing another fairly monotonous job, this time in Montreal. Since then, I've spread from one to another, picking and choosing the ones that interest me. A few are just based on hobbies, but I really enjoy scientific, political, and (of course) literary ones. I think it still fulfills that same desire to keep absorbing knowledge when I'm otherwise fairly idle. Now, this is usually on my commute to work.

It turns out that as much as I love to write about strange and unrealistic places, learning about our world really provides a lot of raw material for me -- Ideas have been spawned by asking "what if?" while listening to a show about the way birds may communicate or the history of the Hope diamond.

So, I wanted to point out a show I've recently gotten into from (again) the CBC called Writers and Company. Particularly, the episodes on Malcom Gladwell and Juan Gabriel Vasquez.

In the interview, I find Gladwell's storytelling is divorced from the didactic tone of his books and is more interesting. Still, I know some people can't stand him. If you are one of those people, I doubt this will change your mind. I really enjoyed his stories about entrepreneurs in the second half the show, though.

Vasquez has an awesome accent in English. Possibly worth the listen on its own. However, he has a lot of neat things to say about what drives him to write novels. Particularly, he talks about how he had to leave his country (Columbia) to write about it. I recommend giving it a listen; it's enjoyable from start to finish.

Duane and I (two-thirds of the cerberus-like HBM team) are both transplanted from our home provinces. I struggle with writing about the Okanagan in my stories. There are bits and pieces, but I still don't think I've ever written one piece that is really about the way that I saw the Okanagan. And I've been away for almost 8 years. Then again, Vasquez's upbringing in Columbia was a lot more dramatic than mine in BC.

I don't know if Duane has touched on this either. Maybe I can convince him to set his next apocalypse in Newfoundland ;)

Alex Newcombe

P.S. HBM was interviewed by CKUT earlier in the year. We're not quite the wise storytellers that the men above are, but if you'd like to listen, the show is linked here

June 6, 2012

Did I hit it? RPGs and Writing

13. Did I hit it?”, I asked.

Depends, what’s your THAC0?

Some of you will get that and others are definitely already lost. THAC0? What the hell is that? Those of us who know, still ask (it's an over complicated RPG [Role Playing Game] game mechanic that stands for: to hit armour class 0... as if that clarifies it).

I think RPGs are a big part of why I like to write. Over complicated game mechanics aside, RPGs are a way to tell stories. I’m referring to the pen and paper table top kind, not the videogame kind, or rocket propelled grenades (in case you missed it above). It is and always has been the story that draws me to the table whether I'm playing the game or running it.

I’ve been playing RPGs on and off for a good part of my life. My first character the way I remember it was a chaotic dwarf called Rolf. I was 2 (I’m exaggerating… slightly). Many characters have followed Rolf, too many to remember, unless I sat down and went through them methodically... A few stand out.

Necrelius Ravendark, who killed enemies of the state until he was deemed one and rose up to fight for himself and slowly the people, a classic story. Then there was Xarynish, a migou-human hybrid who was treated like a dog on a leash by his “employer”. His loyalty stemmed from Stockholm syndrome. I have played all sorts, most of them odd and conflicted. They are strange and unusual heroes dreamt up around the RPG table, or nowadays our forum. They have a past and motives, but no predetermined future and no future I can control entirely. The RPG story unfolds - collectively.

My RPG beginning was during the time when RPGs had a stigma because of the ridiculousness portrayed in movies like Mazes and Monsters with wunderkind Tom Hanks. Not that they don't have a stigma now, or maybe they don't. Whether you like Tom Hanks or not it is undeniable that he was a huge success… but that movie is on my list of worst movies ever. Youtube it. Troll 2 may be worse, but it is still better. Watch the documentary. The silliness that Mazes and Monsters, along with other media, had somehow released into the minds of adults… made them think RPGs would break our brains...

My awesome older brother introduced me to gaming, so any good or bad influence that it has had on my life falls entirely to him (I refuse all responsibility even if it is my life). Fortunately, he wanted to do other things than run games for his younger brother and his annoying friends and that drove me to tell my own stories. As a result, I learned how to read. Anyone unfamiliar with RPGs should now be made aware that each system often has hundreds of pages detailing over complicated rules, setting elements and other facts relevant to the world and the things that inhabit it. You can also just take the rules and homebrew the rest. My current favourite system is FATE.

I have been creating my own plots and story arcs to feed to my story hungry friends for years now, on and off. It is part of my origin story as a writer. I'm certain others have been infected with the creative bug in completely different ways. Also, am I alone on the feeling that RPGs are great for stories? I doubt it. Of course everyone has probably had at least one terrible GM. 

Oh and sis, you never introduced me to RPGs, but you're cool too.