- Dusty Lamp— at least dusty on the bowl on top. Billions and billions of dust mites can live there, until their god remembers them. The other lightbulb is functional: 8/10
- Books— just the concept: 10/10
- Book One— a murder mystery where the heroine waited for others to solve the murder for her. People praised her as a strong female character. The author reads my work: 7/10
- Book Two— not yet read: 7/10
- Book Three— by an author who lost his mind the same way one loses a photo frame bought on vacation: 9/10
- Books, Four Through Seven, Unread: 4/10
- Bed I’ve used since age six— everyone says it’s lumpy and old. The bed’s not what keeps me up at night: 7/10
- Magnetic Breakable Creativity Toy Sphere given by old friend— when I skype someone, my hands fidget, and I take the sphere and break it and reassemble it until my fingers are as red as the pieces. One day, I’ll skype her, and thank her for the gift without using it: 10/10
- Modest Collection of two-dollar bills— Thomas Jefferson was our greatest president. He did own slaves. Now I own him. Anyway, two is my favorite number: 7/10
- Idea Cards for stories and poems— all my writing ideas go here. If I die, the flashcards I didn’t use will be stacked up like the bricks of a ruined castle. The older the cards, the more important it will be not to disturb them: ?/10
- Free Writing Journal— black, uncomfortably rectangular. For ten minutes, I write whatever comes to my mind. It’s a judgment-free zone: 7/10
- Five-year-old Mac laptop— Everything breaks on me, except for what I use the most: 8/10
- iPod Touch— Some tape holds the protector screen together. When I use this, I hold it like it’s a black bar over my eyes, hiding me from the rest of the world. It’s ruining my eyes: 10/10
- Water bottle— A tall, blue cylinder. Ordered oasis in an ordered, barren room: 5/10
- Stretchy arm bands designed for physical therapy— drooping, dried and dyed entrails: 2/10
- Clock-radio used since eighth grade— red face, stocky build. Like the annoying friend who stays in your group for years: 5/10
- Box of Maybe One Day Useful Tools— By tools, I mostly mean tape: 9/10
- Bluetooth keyboard inside Box of Maybe One Day Useful Tools— purchased when neck problems arrived in my life. It’s straight in a way my neck should have been: 3/10
- Harmonica gift from goddaughter— shining, evenly weighted, unused 6/10
- Bowl of Marbles used to keep me out of bed during daytime but they never worked because I keep having to get up before I can scatter them on the bed to make sure I don’t fall back into it but I always will because there’s no mental power great enough to circumnavigate the waste that your existence is 4/10
- Duct Tape— whenever you try to rip off a piece, the edge stays. You rip off more, and the edge stays thick and immovable as you treat away the rest of a roll. Like the past, or maybe a tree stump— 8/10
- Scotch Tape— held inside what looks like a repurposed half of a dinosaur skull. Just a plastic one, of course: 10/10
- Six-in-One tool given by grandfather— he won it at the family White Elephant game, but he knew I needed it. That’s him, all his life: 8/10
- Notebook full of old writing— I should be generous and forgiving to my past self: 4/10
- Original Story “Stand-Up Night in Solitary Confinement”— The paper is rough and crusty: 8/10
- Original Story “The Chamberlin Tales,”— the paper is crumpled: 2/10
- Original Story “Retmentis”— the paper is creased: 7/10
- Original Story “22 of Us” –- the paper is whiter, never damaged by sunlight: 6/10
- Original Story “23 of Us”— The paper is simulated on the computer: 7/10
- Original Stories Never Written— These sprout from our mind unless we cut them off and serve them for dinner. They grow and grow and grow until we die, at which point they explode: Nothing/10
- Original Screenplay “New Caveton”— The ink is dry: 5/10
- Original Play “Best Story Ever”— The ink is smudged: 8/10
- Original Story “The College Station All-Male Feminist Union” – the ink is fresh: 9/10
- Green Storage Box— A treasure chest, filled with what last century would consider riches. Forget old treasures, we should try to break open the treasure chests of the future: 5/10
- Green Storage Box on top of previous Green Storage Box— makes the first box less special: 6/10
- Jeans (too tight)— Easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle…: 3/10
- Jeans (ok size)— The needle still stings: 8/10
- Bag I carry for weekly meeting with friends— old, worn, black, like your grandfather: 10/10
- Cards Against Humanity set inside of bag— like the monolith from 2001, but with dick jokes. Maybe that’s what he saw in the stars. 10/10
- No Shame Theater Archives— All the skits, poems, rants and magic of its thirty-year history. I’m caring for something older than me: oh-god-what-have-I-done/10
- Slacks (too small): 6/10
- Slacks (ok size)— The good number: 9/10
- Shirts (all of them too small)— A quilt torn to shreds: 6/10
- Shorts (all of them too tight)— soft, stiff, blue, black, torn, new: all contained by a number: 6/10
- Black Hoodie, too small— I once visited a high school friend. We sat on a bench and talked little. Putting on this item felt like that moment: 9/10
- Scarf— Modeled after the one in Harry Potter, rich red and yellow: 4/10
- Medicine/Emergency Box of Supplies— saves lives. Has saved moments: 5/10
- Ceiling Light— I don’t notice it: 7/10
- Dancing Dust Mites in Sunlight— a sky in the window, a galaxy on a particle: 10/10
- Dust 0/10
- Towel— Black and Yellow, Hawkeye logo. Over the years, it shrunk: 6/10
- Closet— no fantasy lands in there, nor anything else worth finding: 5/10
- Big Black Suitcase I always need when traveling for some reason— could swallow you whole: 6/10
- Trash Can 7/10
- Box of No Shame Theater t-shirts— too small for me. Unlike all the other clothing, these always were: 4/10
- Blanket #1, bought for college— beautifully patterned, but too brown. Ruins the whole image: 8/10
- Blanket #2, in my family for years— light brown, not patterned. Thick. A third parent: 9/10
- Pillow with a groove designed to help neck condition— 4/10
- John Quincy Adams quote on wall— “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” Put something on presidential-looking paper, and people will believe anything: 9/10
- Check from work for zero dollars— a mistake from my job. But when you fight, you love, and you raise children, that’s what your gift looks like: 0/10/10
- Change for laundry machine 5/10
- Poster “The Empire Strikes Back”— stylized like “Gone With The Wind,” cut out from a calendar: 8/10
- Poster “Return of the Jedi”— a hand holding a lightsaber. Always pointing up: 9/10
- Checklist of things to do when in a depressive state— scribbled in pencil. Hard to read in a good mood, impossible in a down mood: 6/10
- Post-it notes of advice from therapist— see above: 7/10
- Medicine (escitalopram)— so much in white tablets, never utilized because never used: 3/10
- Medicine (risperidone)— Little pink pills, necessary to sleep. The tinted key to the worlds of dreams: 8/10
- Medicine (naproxen)— painkiller. Its very presence in this room… well, maybe I need another painkiller: 1/10
- Medicine (cyclobenzaprine)— Muscle relaxer. Not another painkiller: 3/10
- Depression— …: 0/0
- Book Eight: 1/10
- Library Version of Book Eight: 7/10
- Extension Cord: Slick and thick. Makes me think dirty thoughts. Otherwise functional: 8/10
- Window Above Desk—sometimes, I see feet outside: 4/10
- Theater props (including, but not limited to: rope, toy gun, Phantom of the Opera mask): 8/10
- Desk: 7/10
- Kleenex Boxes: 5/10
- Receipt under desk— Guttenberg’s first scribbles on a blueprint took a long hike up a mountain to end up here: 4/10
- Flag still in container— lined with quotes from old friends. Some misspellings: 8/10
- Copy of previous flag that friends are using: 11/10
- Swim Towel 9/10
- Neck and Shoulder Relaxer Device— curved and designed like it’s from a sci-fi movie. The ones where the budget is inverse to the number of ideas: 5/10
- Sunlight— The color-changer, the world-grower, the life bringer. Too bright: 6/10
- Shade— I need sunlight to live. But why should I spend every moment living?: 8/10
- Looseleaf Paper: 9/10
- Poker Set: 2/10
- Shoebox: 3/10
- Magic: The Gathering decks— stories disassembled and organized by moments and characters. Perhaps what all stories look like in the mind? Should be able to sell these one day: 8/10
- Belt: 6/10
- Internet: 10/10, with rice 10.5/10
- Floor: 6/10
- White Wall One: 8/10
- White Wall Two: 6/10
- White Wall Three: 9/10
- White Wall Four: 4/10
- Broken Glasses: 4/10
- Cheap Reading Glasses: 7/10
- Main Writing Notebook—In the front sleeve is a sheet of paper. I asked friends to write on there words to motivate me. I took it seriously, they didn’t: 10/10
- Pen— it wrote this poem: 7/10
- This Poem: 6/10
Yes, I’m writing another one of these depression articles, and no, I’m actually doing fine right now. Thank you for asking. Although if you know what I’m talking about when I say “Amanda Lauren,” “xoJane,” or “Blessing,” you’d have good reason to believe otherwise.
Last week, the online woman’s magazine xoJane published an article titled “My Former Friend’s Death Was A Blessing,” by the aforementioned Amanda Lauren. The article’s not available anymore; the editors replaced the piece with an apology. But not before The Wayback Machine saved the article, which is linked here for your convenience. Many people on Twitter discourage the viewing of this article at all because it’s triggering and reinforces the stigmas surrounding mental health in American culture. It’s ok if you don’t want to click on that link. Speaking for myself, I’d say that Lauren’s thinkpiece (appropriately tagged as an “unpopular opinion”) is worth a read, because it represents the mindset of one of the shallowest people you’ll ever find. Here’s what the article’s about: the author admits she “feel[s] it is a blessing when someone dies young.” In particular, she’s talking about a former friend who drowned herself in a bathtub. Why was it good that Leah— the false name given for the friend— died? Because mental illness had taken over her life, in the form of a) having a filthy apartment, b) not having a dating life, c) trying to hook up with someone the author had a crush on, d) quitting the job that the author gave her, e) struggling with weight, f) being a cam girl, and g) posting personal information about the author online. These things were enough to make the author of this article say, “her death wasn’t a tragedy, her life was.” The author claims that she wrote the essay to bring the plight of the mentally ill to attention. But in reading the article, the only plight she seems to be talking about is the plight of the mentally ill on her own life.
Now, you’re probably here to listen to me talk about why this essay and this writer are so terrible. Similar sentiments can be found here, here, and here. Those response pieces capture rage. I have little of that to give. I’m mostly weary, that that’s because of an uncomfortable truth those response pieces are avoiding.
See, those response pieces will tell you that Amanda Lauren is perpetuating mental health myths dangerous to those suffering from those conditions, as well as being just plain wrong on many accounts. And there is an element of truth to that. But… well…
All right, let me back up for a bit. Among the many complaints levied at Amanda Lauren, one of them was that she’s shit at writing. And while her article is comparable to a high schooler’s journal entry, I don’t think that that criticism is entirely fair. She is self-aware. “It’s hard to share my thoughts… and not judge myself on some level for exploiting an awful situation,” she says near the beginning. Remember that quote about Leah’s life being a tragedy? She pre-empts that sentence by stating, “It sounds horrible to say…” Lauren knew she was dipping her toe in sensitive waters. And that knowledge did jack shit for her credibility. No one bought the idea that she was aware of the terrible things she was saying. I have a feeling that the same fate might befall me. But, unlike Lauren, I will not act all shocked and be like, “Oh no, I really did this to raise awareness of mental illnesses!” What I’m saying will upset you at first, but it needs to be said.
What Amanda Lauren says about people who have a mental illness being burdens is not true. The fact that people like Lauren exist, however, is true.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, it’s important to know that you are not a burden. And that’s a true statement regardless of what others believe. But there will be people that do believe that lie. Many mental health activists are discouraging people from reading the article, lest they think others don’t want them around. And to be honest (even thought that’s all I ever have been)? I wish we could turn back time and live like that. But the seal is broken. Amanda Laurens exist in the world. I have no doubt that there are people in my social circle that think I’m better off dead. Thankfully, I’m certain none of the really important people (therapist, family, close friends) think that. But the rude guy at my high school lunch table that garnished cynicism on everything he saw like it was salt? The old school, wandering preacher who believes in heaven and believes the modern world has been overrun by the forces of hell? I’m connected to them on Facebook (for the record, I have a hard time unfriending people on there). They might look at my blog any day and think “Still in college at 23 pursuing one major and no minors? Obese? No love life, not even a history of one? Anxiety and depression… of course this kid would be better off dead.”
I might not even need evidence to believe this kind of thing. One of my bartending coworkers gets easily upset at people who don’t follow his orders and “lie” to him. If you were to ask him, he’d likely say that he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Judging by his actions, I’d say he doesn’t suffer anyone gladly. He doesn’t know that I have depression, and he already thinks I’m a burden. He doesn’t have to say it for me to think it. Hell, that doesn’t even have to be true for me to think it. My head does most of the work.
Remember one of my earlier posts on depression this year, where I talked about codename Hamlet (also: Hamlet’s doing better now! Yay!) and how I couldn’t help him with his depression? Although I never saw Hamlet as a burden, the relatives of Hamlet that kept pushing me to help him clearly did. Ultimately, their anxieties and their own selfish beliefs did not help Hamlet get to this better portion of his life. He’s the one that did that.
And that’s part of my point. No one gets to decide your value. Not even you at your darkest moment can do that. No one, from your sad thoughts to your suicidal thoughts, from the bully coworkers to the crazy preachers, can rob you of the innate dignity you possess. You will meet people like Amanda Lauren, even if you don’t know it. Denying their existence is more than pointless, it’s counterproductive. But it’s within your power, no matter where you are in life, to acknowledge that you do not need anyone’s opinion or respect to deserve life. You deserve it simply because you’re you. You are not worthless. And the people who matter in your life already know that.
I wouldn’t even call Amanda Lauren worthless. I think she’s struggling with complex emotions that she’s not equipped to deal with, and this interview confirms that. Her battle is between her limited viewpoint and that terrible old chestnut “She’s in a happier place now.” I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s dealing with a lot of pain under the surface, especially now that she revealed a rather ugly side to herself to the entire world. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to take on her pain as your own. The people who think you’re a burden are not just wrong, they’re wrong on a level that must be rejected clearly and decisively. It won’t be easy. But those ideas must be faced head-on. Free yourself from the mindset that depends on other people’s opinions, and you’ll wonder why you feared them in the first place.
After Part 1 and Part 2, we’re at the home stretch for my huge, all-encompassing, yes-I-try-to-fill-this-out-for-every-character list! But before we tackle backstory, there’s one other attribute I want to add to our previous sections…
ETHNICITY: A lot of writers focus on what life is like in white culture. I’m guilty of this limited viewpoint too. You don’t always have to write outside of white culture, but you should still have this item available. Otherwise, you’re just going to write someone with the same culture as yourself. You shouldn’t always be doing this. Research the culture a bit (I recommend everyculture.com), read the blog of someone in that culture, and, most importantly, don’t stress too much over it. http://writingwithcolor.tumblr.com is a good resource for this, although you don’t have to adhere to everything they suggest.
Now, onto backstory…
BIRTHPLACE: Location matters for character. I usually don’t have to do much research for this one… I think of a character, and then match his traits with what I associate with a city. Your easygoing character could naturally come from a small town in California, I think.
RELATIONSHIP WITH PARENTS: Freud put a big emphasis on this aspect of life for a reason.
RELATIONSHIP WITH SIBLINGS: Like above, this is a question that has a big impact on how your character becomes who she is. I tend to write these character lists by starting with a few quirks or traits that play well off of one another, then back-engineering the moments in the past that made these characters like that. I finish off by filling out details as I go. Did your character’s adventurous streak come from an overprotective brother? Or maybe a fun-loving sister?
HOW LONG MARRIED/WHEN MET: How long has your character been married for? Or, to put it another way, what was the moment where they met their true love like? Feel free to write N/A for this question.
PARENTS’ OCCUPATIONS: … I think I’m using the right possessive. Anyway, this is a more concrete way of establishing your character’s social class.
EARLY LIFE: I spend at least six lines of loose-leaf on this one. What were the early factors that influenced the person your character becomes? This is the part of the list that becomes most like storytelling.
COLLEGE/BEYOND: Another story worth six lines. Your character does not have to go to college. At some point, though, your character becomes independent and takes their own destiny in their hands. For most people, that’s around college age.
JOB: Where do they work? What as? Like the last question, disregard if your character is too young.
RELATIONSHIP TO BOSS/CO-WORKERS: How do they get along with people in a professional setting?
HOBBIES: What does your character do in his/her spare time?
LIVING SITUATION: Describe not just where they live, but how they affected their surroundings. Is the room messy because of them? Is she a fixer-upper? Did he make the room smelly? Use your imagination here.
LIFE-CHANGING EVENT: Your character wasn’t always your character. Something happened in their life that forever changed their personality. Often, this moment in time is where their inner conflict comes from. Can be as great as a kidnapping, or as small as a lost teddy bear. In either the “Early Life” or “College/Beyond” section, write “LCE” so you know when this moment happened. Go into lots of detail in this section: this is probably the most important bit of backstory in your character’s life.
At this point of character creation, these lists take up three pages of loose-leaf. But I’ve usually filled out beforehand a fourth sheet— research. If my character is obsessed with octopi, for example, you’ll be damned sure this side of loose-leaf will be all about octopi. If you’re talking about a culture other than your own, or another time period in history, this is where you’d put your notes.
I hope this list helps you with your own character creation. I will soon put up a post that combines all three parts and includes not only a template, but also an example from my most recent character in an upcoming story.
I mentioned in a previous post that Glimmer Train wants stories from places other than America. Let me expand on that: they really like stories about the Middle East, especially Iran, through an American lens. We started the Fall 2014 magazine with the Arabic boy, continued with the Iranian immigrant, and now have a story about a visit to Iran. And that story, “The Hate,” is the only one I’ve read in this issue so far that I can say is really good without any qualifications or mitigations. This one’s legit.
After a fallout between his parents, Omid and his mother travel to America. Omid grows up in the U.S. until he’s 19 and in medical school, at which point he and his mother travel back to Iran to visit family and confront Omid’s father for forging their death certificate and cheating them out of their property. In the meanwhile, two boys are sentenced to hang in Iran for the crime of a homosexual relationship. Surprise, surprise, Omid is gay as well. So before he goes meet his long-lost father, he’s compelled by reasons that “ weren’t even clear to me” (Okasi, 65) to watch the public hanging of the two young lovers.
Like “Stowaways,” “The Hate” is great at details. Particularly when it comes to body parts, such as the mother’s feet. Or even just describing a reunion as “like the first time I held a human heart” (Okasi, 76) before going into detail about what it’s like to handle an actual human heart. It’s clear to me that getting your story in Glimmer Train requires visceral, powerful similes and metaphors in your writing. The highlight of this story comes when Omid imagines what the blossoming relationship between the gay criminal boys was like. It’s well written, touching, detailed, breathless, and (speaking as a straight ally) actually kind of seductive. Or, as one of the boys puts it, it “hurts good, as if he’s tonguing a baby tooth about to fall out,” (Okasi, 66) If you didn’t have sympathy for the boys before, you certainly do after that point.
Okasi also understands that one of the most important parts of writing regards sharing wisdom. That’s probably why, despite the time I spend on movies and YouTube, books will be my one true love. Omid may be stuck as an observer for most of the story, but he’s an insightful one. He has the hindsight looking back, in the telling of this story, to see that “You think that if you reach a certain age, you are safe from… drugs, disease, violence, loss, and other heartbreaks. But then you learn there is no such age,” (Okasi, 71). Or “hate isn’t always angry and loud… sometimes hate erodes those who contain it, leaving behind hard salt,” (Okasi, 73). When you learn something as a reader, that’s where fiction becomes important. There are no easy answers here, even in a story about two boys unjustly hanged.
My main complaint for this work is that, for a story called “The Hate,” we don’t get that much of a sense of what visceral hatred feels like. Omid’s right, hate’s not always angry or love. But it’s encompassing, terrible like a hot sun, and most of all present. When the crowd cheers for the hanging in this story, there’s a sense of danger and fear. When Omid’s mother meets his father, the scene becomes cold. But because we’re limited to Omid’s perspective and distanced by Omid telling this story later in life, we don’t experience what hate feels like. That’s the critical component of didactic stories that makes them more than just wise lectures. Omid grew up his entire life watching wartime violence inflicted on Muslims on TV— even if those scenes were “a distant landscape, one that I could switch off with a remote,” (Okasi, 55), you’re telling me he has no hatred anywhere in his heart? Why isn’t the story called “The Hate” about someone that has to deal with hate? Maybe I’m making a big deal out of this because of the title. Maybe I’m disappointed because the rest of the story is so good otherwise. But if I were to say that the two most important components of a story are, I’d say its wisdom and its ability to evoke emotion. Both need support form one another to make a truly great story.
Interested in this story? Buy it and many others here!
Another one of my recent No Shame projects. It didn’t make it to Best Of this year, although I would’ve sworn it had a chance. But enough dillydallying… enjoy!
Send Us Your Credit Card Number And We’ll Make This Skit Funny
by Nick Edinger
FRIEND sits at table, eating lunch out of a paper bag. HACKER runs in, slams door, rushes to sit at table.
Dude, are you all right?
I locked your doors and shut off your Internet. Are your windows secure?
I think so. What did you say abou-
Are the windows secure!?
Jesus, man, yes! There aren’t any windows in this room anyway.
HACKER catches his breath.
All right. You may recall that I’ve… dabbled with hacking in the past.
Oh yeah, another thing. Can you stop hacking into my Twitter and tweeting “They’re all lizard people, I just shit my pants?” You do it every two minutes. I’ve lost a lot of followers because of you, and gained some weird ones in their place.
Look, that’s not important right now! Nothing else is. You don’t- I had a few, my flatmates were egging me on… mistakes were made. All right. I’ll say it. I hacked into Hillary Clinton’s private email account.
Really? Dude… that’s actually pretty sweet.
Will you listen to me! I’ve seen some dark shit, man… and if I don’t tell someone, that shit’s gonna fester in my stomach and grow and expand until I have terrifying, lizard-like shit-for-brains.
It’s ok. You can trust me.
HACKER takes a deep, calming breath. He exhales.
Hillary Clinton wants her penis to be four inches longer.
Not only that, but she’s receiving offers on how to last longer in bed and how to satisfy her partner. At Bill Clinton’s age, I don’t think he can take it.
I think- well, first off, who cares if Hillary Clinton has a penis? If she wants to identify as a woman, who are we-
I’m tellin’ you, man, tip of the iceberg! Her pockets run deeper than we thought. She has won 472 free cruises. Every bank in America is offering to pay her advanced fees for a guaranteed credit card. She has won more lottery money than you or I or anyone can imagine. And that’s not all: America’s security has been compromised. She’s in league with the Nigerian royal family. And then there’s… the china bike…
Dude, that’s just email spam.
VIKING enters, singing the spam song from Monty Python. HACKER and FRIEND get up and drag VIKING out of the room, complaining that Monty Python is overdone and that this skit is much too silly as it is. That done, they resume their conversation back at the table.
All right. Did you learn anything that’s actually useful.
Someone’s going to sell her a bridge in Bengazi…
For fuck’s sake! Listen: forget all of this. No one’s going to shoot you for looking through Hillary Clinton’s spam folder. It’s ok. Hillary may have some dirt, but so does everyone. She’s human. Say it with me: she’s just-
They’re all lizard people.
Hey, you’re really starting to scare me-
They’re all lizard people. After 10 years, Hillary Clinton had the proof I sought. They’re all lizard people. I forwarded the proof to all the major news networks. They didn’t like that. They’re all lizard people. They’ve mobilized. Paris is burning. They’re hungry. They’re all lizard people! THEY’RE ALL LIZARD PEOPLE!!!
VIKING enters the room, sees the two friends, and hisses.
I just shit my pants.
HACKER runs screaming offstage. FRIEND waddles screaming offstage. VIKING goes to the table and pulls a can of spam out from the lunchbag.
This isn’t my first rejection.
In fact, this isn’t even my first rejection from Glimmer Train. And that’s why it still hurts. My log here, the Submission Tracker, shows that my last attempt to get into Glimmer Train was 2013. Three years of improving my craft, and I can’t even get on the list of honorable mentions for their New Writers contest. What a waste.
The editors of Glimmer Train did email me to tell me that The College Station All-Male Feminist Union was a good read. Smacks of a form letter, I know, but I sent they a thank you and they responded by saying they look forward to my next story, so maybe their rejection isn’t as harsh as I make it out to be.
Going forward, I have two things to do before I try to get The College Station All-Male Feminist Union published again.
First off: I’ll try somewhere other than Glimmer Train. GT is still a good magazine, and I still hope to publish something there soon. But the satirical, tense, and (dare I say it?) rooted-in-American-experience nature of TCSAMFU doesn’t fit with a magazine that wants literary, introspective slices-of-life from a life outside of mainstream U.S. culture. At least, that’s the vibe I’m getting from the stories I’ve read in their magazines so far. The next story will have to match their interests.
The next step will be to take my story to other readers. That’s where websites like Scribophile and Critique Circle come in. What are they? They’re actually the successful versions of an idea I had independently, but an idea that I never had the resources to pull off. Writers post their work on Critique Circle or Scribophile for others to critique. You critique someone’s work, you get points based on how many words you use in commenting. When you get enough points, you spend them on publishing your own work. People review your work for points, and then the cycle begins again.
I used to use Scribophile, but I will now be posting my story on Critique Circle for reasons that are too embarrassing to post here. The main problem with Scribophile is that it’s popular to the point where you have to wait a month to get feedback. That’s why, a long time ago, I created a group called ‘The Line Is Too Damn Long,’ where I limit the pool of writers to about 50 or so. Check it out.
There will be more rejections in the coming months. But I imagine they’ll hurt less and less as I go on. In the meantime, I’ll leave all you aspiring writers with the song you need…
(Ok, fine, I’ll tell you why I’m not part of Scribophile anymore. I knew I needed a lot of karma, so I thought I was being clever. I gave a 500 word critique to a story yesterday— not as long as my usual ones, but still in-depth and answering the author’s questions regarding their work. I thought I’d pad out my review by typing “STOP READING HERE” at the end and then posting a few chapters from “My Immortal.” The reader gets a good critique, I get extra points, it all works out pretty well.
I log in today to find out that I’ve been permanently banned from Scribophile. I cannot create a new account, and all my work there has been deleted. No warning, no inquiry, just one slip-up and I’m gone. Looking back, I think there may have been a bot that detected plagiarism on the site, though I have no idea why it’s programed to remember one of the worst fanfics of all time. I sent an apology email to the man behind the website, but… yeah, I screwed up. I fought the law and you know the rest.)
Who would win in a fight between all of the pilgrims in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”? I asked that question a while ago, and went through a lot of research to find out. You’ll see the results of the fight eventually, but first, here’s the setup information you need.
Who would win in a fight? This question has been asked about thousands of characters, either real (Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston) or imaginary (James Bond vs. Jason Bourne). To answer any “who would win?” question, the answerer must consider the personality of those involved. Would Superman’s moral code prevent him from killing Batman, giving his opponent enough time for an effective counterattack? Would Hitler have won WWII if his overconfidence didn’t lead to a foolish invasion of the USSR? Character informs action, and therefore the actions of certain characters can reveal new depths to personality.
There’s no better way to see the personalities of Chaucer’s pilgrims on full display than to watch them all fight. The premise of this assignment is: the 27 pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales (excluding the Host but including Chaucer himself) are locked in a room together, and only one can come out alive. Who would win in a fight? To find an answer, I will take information from the general prologue and translate the details of each character into a Pathfinder (a version of Dungeons and Dragons) character sheet. The characters’ combat experience, profession, traits, and chosen stories will all turn into numbers and strategies that can be used in battle. Each character will be at level 1, and all non-medieval-society elements (like magic) will be outlawed. Then, using the Pathfinder rules, I will simulate a battle between all these pilgrims, a battle decided by skill, cunning, and random dice rolls.
The heavy favorite to win this brawl is the Knight, as he has lived through many wars and possesses the best armor. However, the Knight is wont to charge into battle bravely, which can be a mistake that wiser men like The Parson or the Doctor can take advantage of. Plus, characters like the Knight and The Parson are moral, whereas an immoral character like The Shipman would have no problem forming alliances with someone like the Monk before stabbing him in the back. Will the Miller’s brute strength overcome the Yeoman’s archery skills? Which church official’s ill-gotten wealth was used on the best weapons? And how badly will Chaucer’s narrator lose the fight? I will record whatever plays out, and then extrapolate from the results who won the fight and who should have won the fight.
The only difficulty I forsee in this project is keeping the paper under 5 pages. Perhaps I can send both an abridged copy talking about the process and then all my notes/character sheets as the project itself.
This fight will be simulated using Pathfinder rules. All the information about Pathfinder can be found at http://www.d20pfsrd.com, but I’ll go over some of the basics here.
Pathfinder is a game where most actions are decided by the roll of a 20-sided die. The higher one rolls, the better one succeeds at a given task. Bonus and penalties may be added and subtracted to the roll depending on a character. For example, say the Friar wants to lie to someone. He’d roll a d20 to see how well he does; the higher he rolls, the more likely his lie will be believed. He has a +7 for the bluff skill, so if he rolls a 13 on the die it really counts as a 20. If the Summoner tries to discern whether the Friar is lying, he gets a -1 to Wisdom and therefore to the Sense Motive skill, meaning anything he rolls counts for one less.
Combat works similarly. When attacking, a character rolls to see if they roll higher than their opponent’s AC (defense). If they do, they hit. If they don’t, they miss. Most characters will have an AC of 10 unless they have a shield or a modifying Dexterity stat.
There are 6 base attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. Strength affects how good you are at hitting things, while Dexterity determines your AC and Initiative. Constitution adds to your hit points and helps for Fortitude saves. Intelligence helps for skills, and Wisdom and Charisma are self-explanatory.
During combat, each round can have characters use a move action and an attack action. Move space for most of the characters is 30 ft. per round. Rounds are supposed to count for 6 seconds in real time, although this can be stretched or compressed at the decision of the Dungeon Master (the guy running the show).
If a character rolls a natural 20 (or a 19, if some weapons say so), and then confirm the roll with another good roll, they get a critical hit. This could mean double damage or another stupendous affect of good fortune. On the opposite side of that coin, rolling a 1 followed by a bad roll means a stroke of bad luck as determined by the DM.
Two important combat terms for this battle are attack of opportunity and flanking. An attack of opportunity happens when a character tries to move past a space that an opponent can reach. If that happens, the character is not on their guard, and the opponent gets a free chance to attack. On another note, if a character is flanked, he/she receives a -2 penalty to AC for each additional person flanking them.
If a character falls below 0 hit points, they are considered unconscious and must make Fortitude Saves to keep from bleeding out. If they reach -10 hit points, they are dead. Unconscious characters can be instantly killed with one attack action from a awake character that means him/her harm.
I chose for each character a class that would most likely fit them. This helped determine their hit points and skill points. For example, the Knight was closest to the paladin in character, and thus would be considered one in an actual game of Pathfinder.
|Pilgrim||Advantages (translated into DnD terms)||Disadvantages
(translated into DnD terms)
|Hit Points||Explanations (how they’re described in the prologue)|
|Narrator||+12 for Perform (Stories), able to go by unnoticed||6||Tells the main story, doesn’t draw attention from other characters)|
|Knight||+2 Strength, +1 Dexterity, +2 wisdom, +1 Charisma, veteran of wars, starts with a longsword (+1) and shield, knowledgeable of religion, aligned with Squire and Yeoman.||10 (also won’t fall unconscious when in negative hit points due to combat experience)||Strong, has survived many battles, well-liked, brave, Christian|
|Squire||+1 Strength, +1 Dexterity, +2 Intelligence, +3 Charisma +5 Perform (flute), +5 Perform (singing), +3 Ride, carries short sword (+1), aligned with Knight and Yeoman||-1 Wisdom, will do anything a woman tells him to do, eager to prove himself||10||Sings, plays flute, rides well, knight in training, educated, agile, strong, spends nights awake, a bit egotistical|
|Yeoman||+2 Strength, +4 Dexterity, +2 Constitution, carries Longbow and Dagger (+5 and +3 respectively), arrows have +1 bonus, +3 Handle Animal, +3 Knowledge (Nature), +1 Profession (Attendant), +2 Survival, aligned with Knight and Squire||-1 Wisdom||15||Expert woodsman, strong, loyal, sturdy build, arrows perfectly made, excellent shot with bow and arrow, too concerned with appearance.|
|Nun||+1 Intelligence, +2 Charisma, +4 Diplomacy, +3 Nobility, Speaks French||-1 Wisdom, trained for court instead of survival||6||Speaks French, courteous and friendly, emphasis on appearance, over dramatic, would rather be a lady in court|
|Monk||Has 3 greyhounds to fight by his side, carries a hunting crossbow (+3), +3 Dexterity, +1 Charisma, +3 Handle Animal, +2 Knowledge (Nature), +8 Ride||-1 Constitution, -1 Wisdom||7||Great hunter and ride, owns greyhounds, loves hunting, personable, worldly and breaks religious vows, fat|
|Friar||+2 Intelligence, +3 Charisma, +7 Bluff, +4 Knowledge (Local), +5 Perform (Sing), +2 Profession (Friar)||Values Money Too Much||8||Good at getting money, cunning, knows local bars, good singing voice,|
|Merchant||+2 Intelligence, +6 Appraise, +6 Profession (Merchant), respected by other pilgrims||-2 Wisdom||6||In debt, bad at money management, knowledgeable businessman who knows a good bargain, respected|
|Cleric||+3 Intelligence, +4 Knowledge (arcana, geography, history, local, nobility, religion)||-2 Constitution, -2 Wisdom, maybe too moral for this battle||4||Very thin, spends all borrowed money on books, moral, well-educated|
|Sergeant of Law||+4 Intelligence, +2 Charisma, +9 Profession (Law), has distinction and money||-1 Wisdom, will follow whoever’s nearby||6||Less busy/wise than people thought, no original thought of his own, memorized court cases to appear intelligent (but has incredible memory),|
|Franklin||+1 Charisma, has lots of money, carries dagger (+0), +2 Knowledge (nobility)||-1 Wisdom, will give out money freely,||8||Loves worldly pleasures, wealthy|
|Each carries silver dagger (+1 attack), Profession (for each) +12, in natural alliance with each other||Concerned about appearance||8||Worthy at trades, did well professionally|
|Cook||Can use cooking tools as weapons, +4 Cooking||-1 Constitution, -1 Charisma||7||Oozing ulcer, questionable hygiene, great cook (familiar with tools)|
|Shipman||+1 Strength, +1 Constitution, +1 Wisdom, +1 Charisma, carries dagger (+2), +4 Bluff, +3 Profession (shipman), +1 Slight of Hand, good fighter, lacks morals||“take no prisoners” attitude, dishonest, weak to chances for drinking, -1 Dexterity||11||Excellent sailor, hardy, transports wine and helps self to it|
|Doctor||+2 Intelligence, +6 Heal, +6 Knowledge (local)||Loves gold, too miserly to spend money on anything that might help him in this battle||8||Skilled doctor, educated about medicine, has deals with local apothecaries|
|Wife of Bath||+3 Charisma, +1 Seamstress, +4 Knowledge (love remedies), +3 Knowledge (geography)||Vain, not prepared for combat||6||Attractive, married 5 times, wants to be first at alter, good seamstress, loves to laugh and chat|
|Parson||+3 Intelligence, +4 Wisdom, +7 Knowledge (religion)||Doesn’t have the will to fight, very poor||8||Well-educated, devout, hardworking, ideal priest|
|Plowman||+1 Strength, +1 Wisdom, +4 Knowledge (religion)||Doesn’t have the will to fight, poor||8||Lives in harmony with God/nature, still pays tithes even when poor.|
|Miller||+4 Strength, +2 Constitution, Unarmed attacks +5,||-1 Charisma, braggart||14||Big, brawny, strong enough to tear door from hinge, tells dirty stories|
|Manciple||+3 Wisdom, +5 Appraise||-1 Intelligence||6||Illiterate, shrewd, manages law school, gets great deals|
|Reeve||+2 Intelligence, +1 Wisdom, carries rusty dagger (-1), +5 Appraise, +5 Carpentry, +4 Intimidate||-1 Strength, -1 Dexterity, -2 Constitution, -2 Charisma, bad temper||6||Good at predicting weather, old, is intimidating and hated, great bargainer|
|Summoner||Aligned with Pardoner, +2 Intimidate, +2 Knowledge (Nature), +4 Sense Motive, +2 Survival||-1 Intelligence, -1 Wisdom, -2 Charisma, easily bribed||8||Face full of pimples, children afraid of him, knows little Latin but tries to pass himself as knowledgeable, loves garlic and onions|
|Pardoner||Uses sack of relics as a weapon, +3 Bluff, takes advantage of ill-fortuned||-3 Charisma||10||Most despicable of pilgrims, sells fake relics to poor people|
One final note: I’ve decided not to include the second nun or the nun’s priest because they’re not described that much in the story. I wouldn’t even be sure if they have absolutely average stats. They would get in the way of the other pilgrims if I put them in the battle, so they’ll stay out of this one.
So our fight is about to begin. The host leads the pilgrims into an inn, or at least what looks like an inn on the outside. Inside is a large 75 ft. by 140 ft. room. The Host asks the pilgrims to stand where they are standing on my ‘Round 1 Beginning Placement’ sheet (which I’ll upload soon). Then, the Host leaves, and the one door in the room locks on its own accord. The pilgrims are confused and frightened. Then, the voice of the Host booms through the room: “No man shalle leven unlesse he is the solein man that lives- God spede!” To the pilgrims, it’s as if the voice of God had spoken through His avatar. The meaning is clear- only one pilgrim will leave this room alive…
TO BE CONTINUED…
Follow my blog so you can be there when this fight starts!
Edit: It begins!