Rediscovering Star Wars the Old Republic (SWTOR)

I have been a dedicated player of Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) since its beginning, but lately my interest has been waning. I’m not sure if it’s the game content or the need for something different. After all, even filet mignon will get boring after the eighth dinner in a row. There was also a brief sojourn back into World of Warcraft (WoW), but I had no desire to continue there either. I could assume fantasy overload. I write fantasy novels, read and review fantasy novels, play fantasy MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), and have watched several fantasy movies. Perhaps the need for a change signaled the gaming muse to poke and prod me into having a second look at Star Wars the Old Republic (SWTOR).BLOGSWTOR

In the Beginning

I acquired my SWTOR subscription several months after the game went live and immediately loved it as much as LOTRO. Of course, being part of a gaming guild that spanned multiple MMORPGs helped. The same friends who played LOTRO and WoW were also becoming quickly addicted to SWTOR. The initial era of the game before its first expansion was a fair and fun time. Then a great change took place. We all eagerly awaited the first expansion, level cap increase, new weapon and armor modifications, and new content. But alas, the changes left a bad taste in my gamer’s mouth. Also, less than two weeks before, I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. My disappointment with the Star Wars franchise was something of a double blow in a relatively short span of time. Therefore, I cancelled my subscription.

A New Hope

Call it a whim, something in the air, fate, destiny, or even kismet. I logged into SWTOR on a high-level toon. My stronghold (house) and everything else, were still in place as if frozen in time when I unsubscribed three years earlier. I had to dig through my mind’s cobwebs to remember the game functions. After some difficulties completing a quest, my fingers remembered what to do, but I still felt somewhat clumsy in game. Therefore, I decided, why not start from the beginning again? I logged into a server where I have no toons and created a Jedi Knight, to relearn the game from the proverbial “ground up.”

Return of My Jedi

Usually, one can tell when an MMORPG is ready to pass away. Simply create a new toon and play in the starting area. If it feels like a ghost town, call the MMORPG undertaker. But this was certainly not the case with SWTOR. Planet Tython, the starting area, was a veritable flurry of activity, with lots of chatter and guilds forming and recruiting. I gleaned from other players that many were just like me, former subscribers with a sudden resurgence of interest. There were four active layers on Tython to handle the number of players. Applause! Most MMORPG players are “Altaholics” and I am no different. I also created a Trooper and a Sith Sorcerer. Yes, Ord Mantell and Korriban were just as freshly populated as Tython.

I must say, I missed SWTOR and had forgotten how visually gorgeous it is, how non-repetitive it is, and how the interesting stories draw you in and hold your attention. Rediscovering SWTOR is akin to going back in time and discovering lost love with a renewed freshness. If you’re a former player or looking for a new MMORPG experience, then get that SWTOR subscription now!

Review: “Her Next Door” by T.R. Robinson

“Her Next Door” by T.R. Robinson is a short story that can be classified as both thriller and drama. Within these pages, Ms. Robinson creates an in-depth main character, Tara, with a backstory that makes the reader concerned for her well-being. Of course, in the scope of a short story, that is a rather difficult task, but Ms. Robinson pulls it off with great success.

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The quality of the writing is neat and clean. No glaring errors in punctuation, spelling, or gaping plot holes. Also, the copy editing was well done, with no repeated words, amateur body language, or dialog flubs.

The protagonist is affable. Despite her horrific backstory, Tara gives other people a clean slate, unless they do or say something to warrant an apprehension. Here’s where T.R. Robinson’s writing skills shine. At first, we’re not sure if Tara’s mental “red flags” are real or if she’s merely hyper-sensitive on account of her past. You’ll have to read it to find out.

The use of setting for thematic purposes is also well done. Tara’s new home serves as a metaphor for her life. The run-down condition of the house represents her former existence. As the story moves forward, now she’s forging ahead, reconstructing her surroundings as she also reconstructs her life. However, houses exist within a community of other dwellings, and those homes have people, too. Will “Her Next Door” neighbors live up to her suspicions? Or will she open and proceed through “Her Next Door” to a new and better life?

 

I highly recommend this little gem. “Her Next Door” is the first in T.R. Robinson’s series called “Bitches.” The series has progressed from an initial short story into a series of six. If this story is anything to go by, all of them should be great reads. You can readily find all of them on T.R. Robinson’s Amazon Author Page.

T.R. Robinson has a rather in-depth author blog among other social media locations.

Connect with T.R. Robinson on Twitter and FaceBook.

Swiggers by Joey Pinkney

In the brevity of a short story, Swiggers by Joey Pinkney manages to give us some great insight into a subtle aspect of the African-American community. Also, Joey’s Author Notes at the end give us more to ponder as he discusses the inspiration and life experiences that he called upon to create this little gem.

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Within these pages, we’re given a glimpse into the “theater of reality.” Except, within this particular theater, it is the Greek Chorus which serves as the main character. The theater is a shady park bench near a corner liquor store and the play is the daily habits of the townsfolk. A group of older men meet at the park bench, drink, tell stories, relate jokes, and offer commentary on the people who frequent the store.

Remember, in the play “As You Like It,” Shakespeare said “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances…” However, what can a humble Greek Chorus commenting on the theater of the real do when their little piece of the world stage begins to change? I don’t like to put spoilers in my reviews, so you’ll have to read it to find out.


The jokes are rather funny too. I think my favorite was the one about the Pussy Willow.


About the Writing

PinkneyI did not come across any oddly constructed sentences or glaring errors. With Swiggers, Joey Pinkney has produced a clean product. There are some word repetitions here and there, but not enough to destroy the reading experience. The dialog is quite natural and flows well despite that it is written with something of a U.S. Southern accent.

FaceBook Page  https://www.facebook.com/joeypinkney

Twitter @JoeyPinkney

Blog  https://joeyspen.com/

 

Overall, this was an enjoyable, easy-to-read little story that kept me engrossed all the way to the end.  Highly recommend!

 

 

A Personal Writing Process

I’ve been to many NaNoWriMo write-ins in my day. Naturally, I’ve conversed with many authors and have heard about personal writing habits that differ from others. I don’t mean planning versus pantsing. Sometimes it’s simple, like a naming convention for files, or a color code for highlighting certain passages for editing. Most authors write a 500-page draft and then whittle it down by one-third; I simply can’t operate in such a manner.

The manuscript for M&M: The Tales of Tyrennia Book II now stands at 235 pages. Sounds a bit short, doesn’t it? Well, in a word, No. The original first draft was only 112 pages. My creative writing classes were in screenwriting; therefore, I tend to write a first draft (which I playfully call Version 0.5) that is 90% dialog. It’s a nasty habit, which I do not recommend for any author. This method is a rather personal quirk or “comfort zone.” I prefer having my plot laid out, no holes or characters ignoring the path of least resistance. Also, it helps me to scrutinize my dialog. pencil

Version 0.5 of Book II moved like a rocket-powered roller coaster. Way too fast and somewhat overwhelming for a reader. Most authors love to write a “page-turner,” but there can be a point where a reader needs to come up for air. My current draft certainly leaves them underwater for way too long. But there were other problems.

Book II’s disparate events in separate locations on a collision course created a dizzying story line. Not only was information zipping by too quickly, but such a plot demanded many shifts in point-of-view (POV).

To solve this problem, I wrote out a small synopsis of each chapter’s events and noted the POV shifts. Yes, way too many. But I also noted the need for characters to perform certain actions, and subsequently work on solving glitches in their plans of action.

So far, I’ve fleshed out the first four chapters and have written a new chapter 5. I saw the necessity of other new chapters as well. For instance, the original chapter 5 is now chapter 9. Because of the minimalist nature of my first draft and outline, the plot is still rock solid. *wipes brow*

Do you have any personal writing quirks in your process?

Don’t Go – Comment Below!

For Lent: Hot and Spicy Lentil Soup

Whenever dad and I ventured into a Chinese restaurant, he would opt for either wonton or egg drop soup. As a young impressionable lad, I thought that’s all the soup choices that Chinese cuisine had to offer. Until one day when I spotted Hot and Sour soup. I gave it a try and I haven’t looked back. I have a taste for spicy food and it’s rare to find mouth burning flavors in a soup.

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Whenever Lent is approaching, I surf websites and YouTube looking for awesome meatless recipes. The problem is most meatless recipes that are considered “healthy” usually taste like bland cardboard. At first, I reluctantly tried a recipe for Spicy Lentil Soup and was pleasantly pleased. Since, my initial attempt, I have tweaked this one. Also remember this recipe during the year if you have a vegetarian guest.

Ingredients:

1/3 Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Medium onion*

2 Carrots*

2 Stalks of celery*

*The goal is 2 cups of mirepoix (1 Cup of onion, ½ cup of carrot, ½ cup of celery)

1 teaspoon Cumin

1 teaspoon of Curry powder (use ½ t of curry and hot madras curry for a spicier soup)

1/8 teaspoon of Cayenne

¼ teaspoon of Turmeric

1 teaspoon of Salt

Black Pepper to taste

1 Can of crushed tomatoes

4 Cups of Vegetable broth (try chicken broth outside of Lent)

2 Cups of water

½ Package of frozen chopped spinach

1 Cup of Lentils

Step 1: Check lentils for stones. I do this by spreading them on a sheet pan. Then rinse.

Step 2: Heat up the olive oil and start with the carrots. After two mins. Add the onion and celery. Remember to avoid high heat. You’re looking to soften the aromatics, not brown them.

Step 3: Add the spices for a minute to “wake them up.”

Step 4: Add the lentils, broth and water. Simmer until the lentils are tender.

Step 5: Add the tomatoes and spinach and keep simmering.

Step 6: When the tomatoes are cooked, your soup is done. But there’s one more thing to do.

Step 7: Remove 2 cups of bulk with a slotted spoon, blend smooth and replace. Your soup will now have a creamy consistency.

Step 8: Enjoy! Mangia! I prefer a tablespoon of chopped jalapeños on top for some extra kick.

During Lent, there’s still something of a chill in the air, especially in the evening. Whether you feel obligated to remain meatless on Friday’s during Lent, all year long, or simply desire a healthy alternative, get ready to enjoy this easy recipe. Let me know if you plan on rattling some pots and pans with this one.

If you attempt this recipe with an InstantPot…let me know how you did it.

Don’t Go – Comment Below!

Modern Pop Culture References in Fantasy

Call the practice what you will: a shout-out, an homage, or simply a reference. If you’re a fan of pop culture, movies, TV, books, or music, perhaps you’ve seen filmmakers, directors, and writers being cute with this ritual. Recently, my wife and I were watching an episode of “Heroes,” and were pleased at the appearance of George Takei (Mr. Sulu from the original Star Trek). In this new series, he’s a wealthy Japanese business magnate, and the license plate on his limousine read “NCC-1701.” We had a good chuckle over noticing that little shout-out. In “Jersey Boys,” directed by Clint Eastwood, there’s a scene in a TV studio and a wall of monitors. The screens are playing many of the TV shows from that era, including a shot of Rowdy Yates from “Rawhide.”

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These allusions are everywhere if you take the time to notice them. But of course, one must be a veritable fountain of useless cultural knowledge (like me) to catch them. Even The Beatles dropped a shout-out to Bob Dylan in the song “Yer Blues” from The White Album.

With all this in mind, I couldn’t resist the temptation to do the same within my own pages. The original manuscript for Storm of Divine Light was replete with Easter Egg type shout-outs. But alas, my wife (The Queen) and some beta readers suggested their removal. They said that my references, although entertaining, were too overt and jolted them out of their reading immersion.

For some odd reason, I figured that including some shout-outs was the right thing to do as a way of adding humor to Storm of Divine Light. After all, I hadn’t played any word games with a reader since my first short story “A Purveyor of Odd Things” from the Ragged Souls collection. No pop culture references in that one, but an assault of palindromes, anagrams, and double-entendres.

I reluctantly agreed and removed most of them during the final edit. Most of them (heh heh heh). The remaining ones are quite veiled, and I doubt if anyone will identify all of them. I confess, one of them is somewhat blatant, but I figured that one would stay as a signal that there are more. Hopefully, you’ve paid strict attention to my favorite movie lists. Although I do have a nagging suspicion that my friend Lynne will catch most or all of them.

Do you know what NCC-1701 signifies? Or what Rowdy Yates has to do with “Jersey Boys”? Or the lyrics from The Beatles “Yer Blues”?

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Indie Review: “Something Wicker This Way Comes” by Colin Garrow

Check all your previous Sherlock Holmes assumptions at the door –  or book cover, in this case. The story within these pages does not simply consist of “fanfic” new cases added to the canon of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Rather, Indie Author Colin Garrow has re-invented the characters and taken them in a new direction. Imagine if you will, Sherlock and Dr. Watson solving cases in an alternate steampunk universe.

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Something Wicker This Way Comes” is the first in a series dubbed “The Watson Letters,” since it is written as a bulk of correspondence between Watson and Holmes. In it we find Dr. Watson as the intrepid gumshoe and Sherlock adding in his bit with rare appearances, and sometimes creating havoc by picking fights over minutiae. I cannot discuss the specific subjects of the letters without dropping spoilers, but I will mention what I can.

There are numerous shout-outs to famous true crime cases, movies, and other things in pop culture. And in the course of these comes a good deal of tongue-in-cheek humor. Let me say that this series, in its steampunk setting, is first and foremost a satirical parody of the crime-solving duo. Colin Garrow dispenses his barbed humor with skill. Yes, I almost spit out my tea on several occasions.

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The quality of the writing is first class. At no point did I have to stumble over an oddly constructed sentence or back track. Colin Garrow’s masterful style gives us a sense of a whirlwind life and friendship. However, the best part is, Colin achieved this while maintaining a sense of a 19th Century steampunk world. Watson’s “voice” comes across as a living member of this alternate universe.

Whether you’re a fan of Sherlock or simply an armchair historian with some pop cultural knowledge, you will enjoy Colin Garrow’s creative innovation as much as I did.

Twitter: @ColinGarrow

Indie Review: “Shadows in the Stone” by Diane Lynn McGyver

In her book, “Shadows in the Stone,” Diane transports us into a fantasy world that she describes with enough expertise to fully immerse a reader. There are some overlaps into our own world, but they do not shake a reader out of the fantasy. Now, you may be thinking, “All fantasy does that.” Yes, you’re correct, in the sense that the moment an author mentions a sword, a shield, or a horse, they’re pointing to the real world. However, Diane brought in the concept of canned foods, and described a diligent accounting / government system within Aruam Castle, complete with pre-made forms, records, and bureaucratic filing. Yet she incorporated it so well into her world-building that any reader will seamlessly accept.

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Love is the fine lace woven through the main plot. We see familial love, the love of friendship, and romantic love all growing from the main story. It is the driving force behind the actions and determination of the characters.

Besides love, during our time within Diane’s world, there is murder, mayhem, magic, sword-play and a long, gritty pursuit. From these struggles and hardships, much is revealed about the characters’ pasts, loves, and fears. These aspects of the characters are revealed as a consequence of the main plot, rather than being conveniently parachuted in as filler material.

On Writing Quality: Diane Lynn McGyver stands head and shoulders above other indie authors. Her dialog flows well, as does her setting and internal descriptions. She knows how to show and not tell better than most. There is also a skillful knowledge of writing at work. Diane knows how not to overuse ‘to be’, adverbs, and a throng of other useless crutch or weasel words.

Word Creation: One item in the skill set of any fantasy / sci-fi author is creating new words and terms, either for things out of this world or renaming the mundane. I’ve seen other books where this practice is performed ad nauseam, to the point where a lengthy glossary is needed. But Diane managed it flawlessly. I especially liked her creations of sumortide, springan, yesternight, and Hauflin. These words helped me to immerse and stay there (very crafty, Diane). DLM


 F.Y.I  –  Diane maintains a spiffy blog as well


Characters:  “Shadows in the Stone” is a deep look into the heart and soul of the Dwarf Bronwyn Darrow. Now, I simply ask you to drop all of your Tolkien Dwarven standards. Diane has beautifully tweaked and redefined the notion of Dwarf, both in the physical and cultural sense.

Bronwyn Darrow stands as one of my favorite characters ever created within the sci-fi / fantasy genre. The other is Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Let that sink in about the company Bronwyn Darrow keeps.

Parting Thoughts: I enjoyed every page of “Shadows in the Stone” as you will too. This is the first in the Castle Keepers series, which is available on Amazon.

 

 

 

Did Sherlock Holmes Meet Mr. Spock?

Well maybe they shouldn’t meet, or perhaps can’t. Unless our intrepid science officer from Star Trek, Mr. Spock, decides to travel back in time to 19th Century London, finds his way to Baker Street, and has a robust conversation with the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. However, if that conversation should deteriorate and turn into an argument, and Spock murders Sherlock, there could be more serious consequences other than the long arm of the law.Sherlock

We know from certain Star Trek episodes and movies (I believe there are time-travel episodes from all of the individual series, and the movie Star Trek IV) that time travel into the past is possible within the Star Trek universe. Science of course says otherwise, because of the huge problem of paradox. For example, if Spock or anyone else travels back in time and kills their great-grandfather, then they were never born in the future to travel back in time to commit the murder in the first place. And that’s why anything I write does not mess around with time.

O.K., but I’m digressing. I chose Mr. Spock and Sherlock Holmes for a reason. I’m putting out this idea to all Sherlock and Star Trek fans. Is it possible that Sherlock Holmes was a Vulcan? If so, then what are the possibilities that he is also one of Mr. Spock’s ancestors?

One fact about Sherlock keeps nagging at my mind. He was a master of deductive reasoning and drawing facts together in order to land at their logical conclusion. His accentuated intellect and appetite for mundane facts almost screams out his Vulcan identity.

Imagine a Vulcan trapped on 19th century earth. Would not a Vulcan be learning all that can be learned with an incredible level of absorption and retention? If you’ve ever read any story or novel within the Sherlock Holmes canon by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you would be aware of Holmes’ ability to dredge up obscure facts without consulting a text.

Next comes the curious case of naming conventions within the “Spock” family. We know the names of Spock’s father and brother, Sarek and Sybok. See a pattern? It would seem that there’s a family tradition of giving descendants a moniker that begins with an “S” and ends with a “K.” Hmmm, is it too far-fetched to add the name Sherlock to the family tree?

How about this interpretation? Sir Arthur did not know about Star Trek, but Roddenberry certainly knew about Sherlock. I don’t recall Sherlock ever taking on the case of Jack the Ripper, but Roddenberry made him the subject of the episode “Wolf in the Fold.” And just by darn luck, it was Spock who solved the identity of the Ripper. A shout-out perhaps?  Who knows? But Mr. Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation was a huge fan of Sherlock, and even Professor Moriarty wormed his way into an episode.

Do you think this is food for thought? Has anyone noticed this subject in a fanfic? I await some flaming comments.