Halfway out of the dark by stephenherronold

The opposite of summer,
That forever twilight of my youth,
The sky just a darker blue Long past midnight.

Solstice balances Solstice,
A line connecting each pole.
The year strung out, summed up in sunsets
And reckoned in rises.

Every sunset is a defeat,
Every sunrise a victory.
The ticktock of days
Rushing by ever faster.

The worst days,
Like broken glass
Crunching and cutting
Under your feet.

The best days,
Brief moments of bright
Gone too soon,
Never forgotten.

It's not the days in your life,
But the life in your days,
Lick your fingers clean,
Reach in and take another.

Almost There by stephenherronold

It feels like we're still in the middle of writing it, but in reality the Broken Rooms RPG is almost finished. I'll be interested to see what my final (personal) word count is, but I suspect it's upwards of 75,000 words. That's before editing, so it may not all make it in, but I think the book is going to be around 125,000 words when it's all said and done.

Here's the first four or five pages of the RPG, the introduction chapter. We may add a few things to it, specifically around explaining a bit more about the system, but it's more or less as you see it. 

The artwork is a photograph of one of the other writers that I took using his nice DSLR camera. We've been running photographs through a top-secret process (an iPhone app, actually) to get this kind of abstract style. 

Let me know what you think. I'll be posting more about the game, its history and its development over the next month or so.

Sam by stephenherronold

He was a good cat
Though unspeakably vile
To the not-us and un-we.

He was the third of his name
A tradition of my family
Now thirty six years in the making.

He was my sidekick
In my first months in America
My feline shadow in the Canton apartment.

He always smelled a bit like curry
A pleasant and exotic scent
As if he wasn't just a common tabby.

He loved my feet
Would sleep by and over them.
Say howdy with a nibble and a flop.

He loved straws
Would pull them from cups
Drag them up and down stairs.

He would say hello
With a nod and a short meow
As if copying the human gesture.

He liked being scooped
Picked up and cuddled
But only by us.

He would come when called
Chirping and curious
Wondering where the turkey was.

He played fetch
Would bring you something
And wait for you to throw it.

He was generous
Leaving loose change in my shoes
Turning every pair into penny loafers.

He missed us
Would be at the door when we got home
Endless nose-rubs after vacations.

We miss him
Eleven years old, almost exactly
A wedding gift to ourselves.

He was a good cat
A gift that never stopped giving
And never will.

Samuel Jay Herron
April 2000 - April 2011
He was a good cat

The Art of Getting Stuff Done by stephenherronold

I've had a busy couple of days, mostly involving trips to Belfast.

Yesterday, I spent time with Tim, my best friend from ages 6 until 15 or so. We lost touch a couple of years after I moved from Glengormley to Ballymena and it was only recently that Tim found me online via Twitter. It's been great catching up with him and it was lovely to meet his wife and daughter, too. I got a very tasty home cooked meal last night at his house, which isn't too far away from the street where we grew up. It was nostalgic in all the right ways. Tim's not really changed, which is reassuring, because neither have I. We're both still big science fiction and movie fans who would have probably spent the whole evening building starships out of Lego, had we had any.

Today I met up with long-time writing collaborator, Colin Sinclair. We ate lunch at the Victoria Center in Belfast (which continues to impress the heck out of me). Then we retired to a coffee shop to go over background material for the Broken Rooms RPG. As usual, there was some great ideas sparking back and forth, though I'm reminded again of how much work is ahead of us if we want to get the book done for August 2011. It's to the point where I'm seriously considering uninstalling World of Warcraft from the Macbook. Hmm.

I've been enjoying my time in Belfast. I'm noticing the impact of the recession, with some closed shops here and there, but for the most part it seems like business as usual.

Despite the very kind and effective taxi-service laid on by my friends while I'm home, I decided to take the train home. I've always enjoyed the train and they're particularly nice and modern these days. The ride back was in darkness, of course (sunset at about 4:30pm here) but there's something comforting about the sea of sodium lights that is Newtownabbey by Night. Those lights are an important part of my childhood color palette. 

I've been back for a week and it does feel longer. Despite a sore throat and the beginnings of a cold, I'm very happy with how things have gone so far. I just need to avoid distractions and get writing. There's no one to blame but myself for that, though.

Closer Apart by stephenherronold

Spring Promise
Summers Golden Wish
Open Eyes, Heart Unfurled
Waiting with patience tested
Dangerous tender words

Autumn change
Winters dark sorrow
Deny hope so gently
Biding time, waiting for the moment
Tonight the truth aches

Spring Hope
Summer lies before us
Shadows fade, we remain
Closer apart

(Lyrics written in 1997)

September by stephenherronold

The late afternoon sun
Lays upon the leaves just right,
Evoking green from long ago,
Light from faraway.

The cooling days of autumn,
The end of endless summer,
Staring at the sun-painted green world
From a different classroom window.

After school,
We'd make the most of the deep blue evenings
Watching the sun set behind Cave Hill.
We're suddenly in shadow (the warm into cold of the air),
The new and old scent of peat fires relit
For the first time in ages.

We trade sunlight for streetlight.
Growing up in the dull orange glow
Of sodium vapor.
Sullenly railing against the end of the day,
Before my mum calls me home.

Soon there will be more night, less light.
Frosty dark mornings.
Up far too early,
Walking to the bus stop on the Antrim Road.
The streets are icy, but the passing gritter
Assaults both road and boy.
Just an insult added to injury.

September was the start of our year, back then.

Putting off Procrastination by stephenherronold

Now that Gen Con is over, with Desolation: Journeys written and published and on sale, I find that I have very little excuse to put off other things.

With the intense bout of writing throughout May and June (and July) to get Journeys ready and to get a playtestable system for The Nearside Project, I'm left a bit blank and bewildered now. Nothing to do? 

Not even close. I've a few freelance projects that I've delayed until mid-August (which is, basically, now) and I have a clear run through the end of the year to only work on The Nearside Project.

Yes, I'm going to have to update my resume and start looking into a day job for when the KraftMaid stint ends in November, but I had been putting that off, as well.

Enough excuses. Time to write.


Mirrors by stephenherronold

Over at Chuck Wendig's blog, Terrible Minds, he's discussing the most recent (and final, in many ways) book from White Wolf. World of Darkness: Mirrors is a collection of ideas. System hacks, setting concepts and random thoughts and musings from various White Wolf writers. And me.

It's funny to think that it's a fifteen year gap between my first material being published by White Wolf and this book. I'm kind of glad I got in under the wire, too. Although WW will publish more material in the future, it won't be like anything they've done in the last twenty years.

Still, ever onward, right?

Some of my material for Mirrors got cut, mostly due to word count. It was also because I maybe took on too big a subject. Science Fiction is a vast, galaxy-spanning Empire of a subject. I ran through it pretty quickly, writing about cyberpunk, near-future space travel and the high science fiction stuff, too (where technology is indistinguishable from magic). I think I did a decent job (and so does Chuck) but I agree with him that it was probably impossible to do Science Fiction justice in such a limited space.

There is a certain thirst for that material, however, so it may be that it gets published in some form or other, either as PDF that White Wolf releases, or even a free thing that I'll get permission to post here.

But I would love to see it expanded out further. I would enjoy working with some of the other writers I know and admire to really fill out a Science Ficiton vision of the World of Darkness.

The Summer Heats Up by stephenherronold

Though this is quite a literal phenomenon (temperatures were in the 90s all last week), this entry is more to do with the sheer amount of stuff coming down the pipe this summer.

Where to begin?

SJH Creative is born
For a long time, I wanted to form a company to cover my freelance work. Not that there's a lot of it, but there could be, if I really pushed myself out there and marketed my skills. Given the situation with my day job, and how it'll be dramatically changing towards the end of year, it's a good time to get a legitimate structure in place for tax purposes. Not just paying tax (I need to figure out all that) but to get tax breaks on equipment purchases and to be able to write off home office expenses, too.

But there's little real push I can make for freelance work right now, because of...

Greymalkin Designs and Gen Con 2010
This will be the third year in a row that Greymalkin Designs has released a new product at Gen Con. I'm pretty proud of that, especially given the frantic last minute work we've been putting into the latest book.  All being well, we should have a hundred or so copies to take with us to the Convention. It'll look good along side the core book and the first supplement, Survivors. Having a main book and two supplements is pretty respectful for a very small press company.

Of course, Gen Con requires work. Not only going there and selling, but preparing games to actually run there. This year, I have to scenarios to produce. One is for Desolation and the other is a playtest game for the re-release of The Nearside Project next year. Matt has come up with some neat ideas for system, but I need to actually sit down and figure out what to do with it, as well as expand it out to deal with deeper system needs. So that's two scenarios and a playtestable system that needs written before Gen Con. No worries. 

(Not to mention that after Gen Con, I need to dedicate 100% of my writing time to The Nearside Project. Which actually means that I'll suddenly have an urge to run/play/write something else game-related. It's always the way...)

Huge Work Project
I don't talk about work here much, since I like to keep work and play separate, but there is a gigantic project going on right now and through to the end of August. That's taking up a lot of mental hard-disk space. After it's over, there's a whole lot of uncertainty about what's next, other than a big red line in the sand around Halloween. Without going into too much detail, I'll be spending much of September and October job hunting, though I still hope to take November off (completely off) to work on The Nearside Project. 

That's quite a lot to be thinking about. When looking back at my list of things I wanted to do this year, I'm conscious that the poetry collection isn't in there. I have still been writing (and I'm pleased that I finished "The Gun" at last) but things move around, as always. 

Still, there's a chance that I could put the poetry out as a small SJH Creative project before the end of the year. 

What's the rest of your year looking like?


Things to do at Lunchtime by stephenherronold

Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so. That was Douglas Adams' way of putting it. Still, when that hour rolls around, it's time to go do something.

I like to get out of the office, even if it's only long enough to go pick up food from somewhere. Perhaps I'll eat out, sitting in a cafe or restaurant with a magazine (or the Kindle), eating and riding. Sometimes I'll meet someone for lunch, but usually I am happy with my own company.

Sometimes I'll bring lunch back to my desk, and bring up a script site, reading TV and movie scripts while I eat. It does seem to be all about reading, though.

I remember, as a kid, I would not be able to settle down with a sandwich unless I had a comic to read at the same time. It was almost always a copy of 2000AD, the British Science Fiction comic that I read for over twenty years (right from the first issue). Sometimes I'd be happy with a novel or something factual, as long as it was interesting.

These days, with things like YouTube and Hulu, it might be tempting to catch up with TV shows, but I find that I usually don't do that.

What I should be doing is writing. Blog entries, for example. Huh. Look at that.

Currently Reading... by stephenherronold

The Kindle has been a good gift. Since Sara bought it for me for Christmas, I've probably bought thirty books for the device. I've already owned some of these before (The Hitcher-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, for example) but many are new. I'm currently reading the Jack Reacher novels by fellow Brit Lee Child. His real name is Jim Grant and he used to be part of the UK TV industry.

The novels are popular, no doubt. Harmless popcorn thrillers, the kind of thing I would never have imagined enjoying. But they are easy reading, good company when I'm bored, and the words just flow by. I can't complain.

I read War, by Sebastian Junger, while I was on vacation. It was sobering, and reminded me of Chickenhawk by Robert Mason (a book that Lee Child obviously read as he was writing Tripwire).

The Kindle has done for my reading what iTunes and the iPhone has done for my music listening. I will hear a song or read a review and immediately download a song to check it out. It's just 99 cents. Then I may end up downloading the entire album. That's happened a lot over the last few years, and if I have any taste for modern music, it's thanks to how easy it is to dip in.

The same is now possible for books. I read a review of Lee Childs' lastest Jack Reacher novel in Entertainment Weekly and downloaded a sample of the first book. I liked what I read, so click-click-bang, I had the book on my little e-reader moments later. I finished the first novel on Vacation (I read most of it on a sunny Thursday morning on the beach) and I was able to immediately buy the second book right there on the beach.

Shocking. Just far too easy.

I've seen the iPad, obviously, and it's probably pretty decent for e-books. I cannot imagine a better technology than e-ink for reading. My eyes get tired if they are staring at a screen, especially with the immersive concentration that a really good book demands. E-ink is amazing and really is like reading an actual piece of paper. The iPad has it beaten hands-down for magazine browsing, though - I sometimes read the New York Times on the Kindle, over breakfast, and it's a dull experience. The same subscription on the iPad is astonishingly interactive.

It's not an argument that's going to go away. I think the Kindle has a small chance of surviving the next couple of years, but the iPad is just so persuasive that I suspect e-ink readers are going to have to really step up their game to survive.

Mid-Year Review by stephenherronold

Earlier this year, I made a list of stuff and things that I wanted to do, own or achieve this year. Let's check that list and see how things have been going.

1. Publish a book of poetry

I've been writing more poems and I even set up a Lulu account to have a look at what I'd need to do to actually print/publish the book. After I did a basic layout, using the poems I've got, the book came out to around 60 pages, which is a bit short. I could drop some short stories in there, too, but I wonder what people will realistically pay for such a thing? I'd be aiming for under $10, but it hardly seems like enough stuff just yet. I need to be writing a couple of poems a week for the rest of the year to get enough to publish, and I should refrain from posting them all here (aka, giving them away for free).

It's still on my mind, and still a goal before the end of the year.

2. Finish the first draft of my second novel

I have not done any more work on this since January. Mentally, I've not been in remotely the right place. The novel is way too autobiographical, to be honest, and I need to set some distance between myself and the overall narrative, which isn't about me. But it could be. Know what I mean? It would probably be a good idea to start something completely different, though I think I have enough on my plate right now.

3. Get The Nearside Project writtten and ready for layout

I've done some more writing on it, and the next couple of months will be busy. I'm running a couple of sessions of the game at Gen Con which will help me not only pin down updated concepts, but to reality check the entire idea. I still think it's a good one, but I've been too close to it for too long.

4. Get back to the gym and go regularly

Um, complete fail. To the point that I don't think I can show my face at the gym at which I'm a member. I may call Globalfit and get them to change my membership to a gym closer to home. I need to get to the gym. I am feeling incredibly unfit at the moment, much more than usual.

5. Get a Macbook

Complete success! Moreover, the small amount of freelance work that flows by is doing a great job of paying for the Macbook. That was always my intent. Hopefully after Gen Con, I can concentrate on TNP and building the freelance business up. Given that I will be looking for a new job for November onward, the freelance work will hopefully be a good way to keep me sharp while I look.


Not the best success rate, I admit, but the year's not over yet. I fully intend to check off the rest of the items before the year is up.

Measure of success by stephenherronold

There's a story that goes something like this. I can't remember where I heard it, but it's stuck with me because of how true it is.

A comedian is performing at a small local comedy club. He does his act twice, the first set at 7pm (when the crowd is light and concentrating on dinner and drinks) and the second set at 11pm (with a more boisterous and rowdy audience).

The comedian comes in early next evening and has a drink at the bar. As he sits there, sipping his vodka and coke, a beautiful woman comes up and sits beside him. In the comedian's opinion, she's basically perfect. She's the right height, her hair is just the right color and her figure is precisely what he adores. Her smile is even the right kind of crooked.

"I just wanted to say," she breathes in his ear, "that I loved your act last night."

She lays a hand on his leg. His shaking hand puts down the drink.

"I love a man who can make me laugh," she says, "and you are the funniest man I've ever met. I want to take you back to my house, up to my bedroom, and we can make love until dawn. I'll do anything you want, everything you've ever dreamed of. You just have to say yes."

The comedian thinks for a moment.

"Which set did you see?" he asks. "The 7pm or the 11pm?"


I share this story to to illustrate a question that I think all creative folk want to ask. It's not vanity, though it can seem that way. It's a matter of wanting to know what they did right, and what they did wrong.

I battle with this constantly. Clearly, I'm not shy about putting my work out there for people to read. My poems are all over this site and others. I've published stories, short and long, on the internet. Hell, I even published a novel online.

Sometimes I get feedback. Not often enough, though. Mostly it's people saying that they liked what they read. That's nice, but not because they liked it. It's nice because they read it.

What's better are comments like "I really liked the imagery here," or "I wasn't sure what you meant about X or Y." Both of these are great because they tell me what I did right and what I did wrong.

Is it an issue of confidence? Perhaps. Ultimately, I'm not terribly confident when it comes to my creative work. I'm always hungry for reassurance from various folks, especially those whose opinion I value highly. They tend to be people who are already successful writers, or whose writing I respect regardless of any measure of "success." They also tend to be kind of person who tells me why they like or dislike something. They tell me what works and what doesn't, and may sometimes offer ideas about how to improve something I've written. That is pure gold.

However, the very best feedback tells you what's missing without telling you how to fix it. The writer's creativity expresses itself in the fix, something that's nearly as exciting as the initial act of creation.

I've been writing marketing copy for about six years. I was writing long before that, obviously, but the last six years have seen it be a professional path, a career-choice. I now mostly do it as part of my freelance marketing work, but I'm constantly aware of using words to influence people or explain ideas. Using words to sell stuff is fascinating. Sometimes I come up with something I know is good, really good. I don't need anyone to tell me they're good. There are no doubts. There's also neither fame nor fortune, not at my level. It's been very cool to make a living through writing though, even if it's not quite the same as being a more traditional author.

But the fiction and the poetry... that's tougher. That kind of writing is lonely and subjective. There's no client on the other end, no one paying you to write something specific. I don't really have metrics to measure the success of a poem, unlike an email campaign where I can directly see the results of my copy, combined with good design.

The RPG material I've written might be different. You get to read reviews of those books and see what people are saying online. It's nice to read that someone likes a piece of chapter fiction you wrote, or finds some rules elegant. That's a nice feeling.  Plus people vote with their wallet. They actually buy the books, even if that doesn't really make you any money in the end. Like copywriting, it's a hugely cooperative process. You're part of a team dedicated to doing the very best that they can, and you share the success with them. That's what I love most, I think.

Writers need feedback. They need to know what works and what doesn't. They need to know because it makes them want to improve, to write better. Knowing their strengths is not just an ego boost, it helps them focus on weaker areas and to keep doing what they do well.

What do you think? If you're a writer, does any of this ring true for you? As a reader, do you read this way, considering what works and what doesn't? Is that just a side effect of so much time spent writing and editing? Do we, in fact, lose our ability to read "only" as a reader?

Feedback is welcome.

Last Lines by stephenherronold

As you know (because you read it) I recently posted a short story that I rewrote from memory. While 17 years of writing has probably taken some of the edges off it, I'm annoyed by the last line. I don't think it's as good as what I originally wrote - though I can't quite clearly remember what it was.

That being the case, I'm going to edit it a few times to see what works. The story will still live here, it'll just be different the next time you read it.

Just sharing the process. Well, my process.

Brick by Brick by stephenherronold

It's called Lego.
Just Lego.
A plural like sheep Or fish.

We never built cars or fire engines.
We never built planes or houses.

We built starships.
Small ones, big ones.
Fighters and capital ships.
The crew (the cast, really)
Would lose one ship,
Just so we could build the next.

Epic battles,
Space-opera storylines.
Unfolding in a storm
Of copyright violations.
Drawing inspiration from everything,
Ever-hungry for the next story.

Science fiction was our reality.
Our childhoods defined by parsecs, not miles.
We were light years away,
In the Collinward garden.