commentary and current events

Q1 Blogging Roundup: Everything I’ve Blogged This Year So Far

Is Daylight Saving Time kicking your tail right now? It’s definitely kicking mine.

There will be more Actual Content(TM) in this space next week, I swear. In the meantime, please enjoy this roundup of all the blogging (here and on Medium) I have done so far in 2021.

Image: Blog post title image with title and URL, and a photo of a person blogging on a laptop.

On Writing

Beginners: A “Writing Strategy” Isn’t What You Think It Is: Lots of beginning writers ask for my “writing strategy,” by which they mean “how do you actually get a book out of your head and into your publisher’s hands”? What they mean is “what is your process?” A “writing strategy” is something else – something just as important as a process (or possibly even more important).

How to Write Realistic Legal Objections: TV and movies have schooled generations of Americans on how legal objections work, and not for their benefit. Here’s how to avoid using objections for dramatic effect and how to start using them like an actual lawyer would instead.

How to Fake a Conlang: Need some words or names in a made-up language, but don’t want to make up an entire language? Here’s how to make it look like you invented an entire language when you did not.

So You Need to Name a Fictional Character: Here’s how to find names that really reflect your character’s personality or traits, rather than simply being names you chose randomly from a baby name site.

Here’s Why a Plagiarism Checker Won’t Save You From Plagiarism: Plagiarism checking software can’t actually detect all types of plagiarism, and it also flags many things as “plagiarism” that aren’t.

How to Submit to an Anthology: I break down how to read a call for submissions and respond to it, step by step, using the call for Spoon Knife 7 (which is currently open!).

How to Tell if an Editor is About to Steal Your Book: Does something about your editor just seem…dastardly? Here’s how to tell if your editor is about to bring out the Giant Book-Stealing Laser.

On Working and Creativity

What Are Employers Paying For, Anyway?: Workers automate their jobs, then agonize over whether to tell their employers. And for good reason.

The Atlantic vs. My Impostor Syndrome: I thought I’d never be good enough to write for The Atlantic…until I did it.

What’s My Creative Process? This. And It Works: Here are the ten steps I follow for creative work, from idea generation to final product.

What It’s Like to Be Addicted to Work: “Workaholic” was once a source of pride for me. Then it nearly killed me.

“Too Lazy”? Try Not Lazy Enough: Over and over, studies demonstrate that humans do our best work when we have plenty of time to mess around and play. Yet that’s precisely the kind of time we deny ourselves out of fear that we’ll look “too lazy.” What is going on?

Niralanes 101: Welcome to the Language I Built a Novel Series Around: So much of what happens in my novel series depends on understanding the conlang I wrote the series to support. Here’s how to start navigating it.

24 Books Every Beginning Witch Should Read: Everyone wants to start their witchly journey by reading poetry to candles. Here are 24 books that can make you a lot better at that – or explain why it’s not the best place to start.

We Shall Overcome: A Creative Commons licensed arrangement for concert band.

On the World We Live In

We’re Worried About Student Performance. We Should Be Worried About Student Survival: Students can’t learn, online or in person, if they’re hungry or homeless. Too many of our students are both.

“Cancel Culture” Didn’t Cancel Dr. Seuss. Capitalism Did: The decision to stop publishing six Dr. Seuss titles was purely business.

“Happy” Quarantineversary: The obligatory “a year ago I was” post at the one-year mark into my personal COVID-19 Experience(TM).

Inauguration Day 2021: Looking Back, Looking Forward: Over half a million of us did not survive Trump. Here’s what we need to do next.

On Forgiveness: How do we move forward when the person who committed a wrong against us will never redress it themselves?

Three Unusual (but Potentially Useful) Approaches to Insurance: Sometimes weird risks need weird coverage.

Why You Should Keep Your Cat Indoors: Not only is it safer for them, but they really love it, too. Three cats weigh in on why Indoor Life is the Best Life.

Silly Stuff

The Worst Thing I Ever Did in a Video Game (So Far): I had The Sims 4 for, like, five minutes before it proved I am the worst human being who ever lived.

Everything You Never Wanted to Know About the Ferengi: Why do people constantly ask me Ferengi questions on Quora? Anyway, here are my answers about Star Trek’s greediest little alien weirdos.

Here’s How Many Calories of Turkish Delight Edmund Pevensie Ate: No wonder he was in such a bad mood.

Best of the Blog: My Top 10 Most-Viewed Posts of 2020: Here is a link in a linkpost to a post full of links.


Keep it rolling: Buy me a coffee or share any of these posts on social media.

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satire, fiction and humor

The Worst Thing I Ever Did In a Video Game (So Far)

Everyone has a story. A “this is the worst thing I ever did in a video game” story. A “I think this proves what a horrible person I really am inside” story. A “really, it’s the game’s fault for even making this an option” story.

Here’s mine.

This is the worst thing I’ve ever done in any video game….so far.

Image: Blog post title image with the title, URL, and a screenshot of an extremely sad Sim.

Aspiring to Greatness

In late 2017, I finally bought The Sims 4. I’ve been a fan of the Sims franchise since 2000, but I’ve always been notoriously late getting on board with new releases.

One of the first things I pounced on, when I got The Sims 4, were lifetime aspirations. The Sims 3 had a lifetime aspiration system, but it wasn’t as nuanced as 4’s, and I really liked the opportunity to complete specific tasks and to switch lifetime aspirations.

Because I’m definitely a more horrible person than I pretend to be, the very first lifetime aspiration I ever gave a Sim was the Public Enemy aspiration.

Aspirations have about four tiers each. Each tier has various tasks a Sim has to complete. Some of these tasks can take quite a while – in some cases, a Sim’s entire life (“have a child or grandchild reach the top of a career”). Others are fairly easy to knock off (“talk about grilled cheese with 5 Sims”). And some are pretty rare on their own, but can be made to happen by a particularly diabolical player.

“Witness another Sim’s death,” in the Public Enemy aspiration, is one of the third kind.

Normally, it takes a while for a Sim to die in front of you. But as every Sims player knows, the game gives you plenty of ways to speed up the process.

One of the most beloved ways to kill Sims these last 20+ years has been to have them jump in a swimming pool, then delete the ladder. The Sims 4 stole this option from us, however, by simply allowing the Sims to climb out the side of the pool. Like normal humans. Boring, self-sufficient normal humans.

Sims in 4 can’t get out of the pool, however, if you build a fence around it. So that’s what I did. The “death” half of “witness another Sim’s death”: Check.

But I also had to contend with the whole “witness” part. As a newcomer to The Sims 4, I wasn’t sure what it meant. Did “witness another Sim’s death” mean my Sim need only to be present on the lot when another Sim died? Or did my Sim have to watch the entire process?

Sims have notoriously short attention spans, and they take a notoriously long time to die of exertion in a swimming pool. There was no way my Sim would stand at the side of the pool for the entire time it took her party guests to drown.

Not unless I made her.

I bought a comedy microphone and set it at the poolside, facing so that my Sim was facing an audience of doomed swimmers. Then I had her stand there and tell jokes. Until someone died.

It Gets Worse

Honestly, I thought that making my Sim tell jokes to a pool full of her neighbors until they drowned was the worst possible thing that could have happened.

I mean, that I could have done.

I mean, that I did.

But no. As if to punish me for this horrible digital life choice, things in my game got infinitely worse.

First, the Grim Reaper showed up. This isn’t, in itself, all that bad. The Grim Reaper has shown up in every Sims installment whenever a Sim dies. We all kind of like Grim by now.

Except Grim couldn’t actually get into the pool to reap anyone’s souls, because of that fence I put up to keep the victims from saving themselves from death by drowning.

When Grim found he couldn’t actually do his job, he ended up wandering into the house. He helped himself to some snacks and then decided to watch television.

Turns out the Grim Reaper likes rom-coms. They make him…flirty.

And that’s how my Sim ended her day of comedy and death by making out with the Grim Reaper.

It Gets Even Worse

The Sims 4 has by far the most nuanced mood system of any Sims game so far. Sims have access to a wide range of moods, and can even die of extreme moods, like excessive anger or hilarity.

The vanilla mood system is weird and sometimes difficult to manipulate. As a brand new Sims 4 player, I certainly wasn’t ready for what happens when a Sim jokes a half-dozen of her neighbors to death and then gets smoochy with the Grim Reaper:

She got “Very Sad.”

All the time.

I tried removing all the dead bodies, the comedy microphone, and eventually the entire pool. I kicked Grim off the lot. I sent my Sim for a jog, for a nice hot bath, for a cup of mood-changing tea. I cranked her mood-changing paintings to high.

Nothing I did made her feel better. Nothing.

My Sim just kept crying. And making her spouse sad. And pissing off their toddler by being too sad to read books or play dolls. Her work performance tanked. She just kept painting the same crying rabbit over and over. She wouldn’t even fight her declared enemy anymore!

Since my Sim clearly no longer had anything to live for, I decided to embrace the depression lifestyle. Every time her interaction menu gave me the option to do a Sad activity, I did it.

Crying in bed. Watching sad movies. Sobbing at the graves of her deceased neighbors.

That last one…actually perked her up a bit. Enough that the interaction menu gave her the option to “Make Fun of” the dead.

My Sim found this hilarious. She began telling jokes again.

At the grave.

To her toddler.

And that’s how I learned exactly how horrible a human being I really am.

…So Far

To date, this remains the worst thing I have ever done in a video game. But even as we speak, I am working on an even more dastardly plan.

This one is in Skyrim, on the Xbox – no mods, no console commands. Nothing except exploiting things the game will already let me do. (Really, the developers should have seen this one coming).

That’s all I’m going to say, in case it fails. If it doesn’t, I’ll be back, confessing the new worst thing I ever did in a video game. Stay tuned.


Help me be awful to video game characters: buy me a coffee or share this post with your awful gamer friends. You know the one.

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AI and predictive text, satire, fiction and humor

Bad Carols, Season 2: Once Upon a Fireplace (the Christmas Joy Song)

Last year, I spread joy and cheer with the Bad Carols Project, aka Christmas Carols Nobody Asked For: A series of ten carols, with lyrics generated by predictive text, set to music of varying badness by yours truly.

Despite great clamor from the fans never to do this again, Bad Carols has been renewed for a second holiday season.

This year’s first project is an attempt to recreate one of those narrative folk songs with a million verses no one remembers, like “Clementine” or every forgotten attempt to set “Twas The Night Before Christmas” to music (there have been many).

Please….enjoy?…

Once Upon the Fireplace (the Christmas Joy Song)

For piano score, click here.

For mp3, click here.

Once upon the fireplace
Santa Claus consulted
With your grandma and her cat
You were not alive yet

Chorus: Christmas merry, Christmas happy, Christmas baby too
Christmas day is, just because of Christmas joy for you

Grandma’s house was fuller than
A face all stuffed with cheer
Christmas came a day early
And then Christmas was just here

Grandad said that it could be
The finest Christmas yet
But heaven only smiled back
And snowed everybody in

Paradise right here and all,
The family still froze!
Remember when we had last year
A feeling in our hearts?

Santa Claus could barely breathe
As Emily was born,
Soaking wet but somehow fine
With being up tonight.

Elf kickbacks surround the child,
Merry reindeer too.
Like the tales that we sing
And the gifts we bring to you.

A Christmas like the Christmas past
Shall never be again,
Holding Jesus in your eyes
Will make this Christmas last.

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