AAAAAGUUUUGGHGHHH*pantpant*GGHHHHH!

It is the day I face the Tax Guy.

I have prepared. I have pre-paid. I have unwadded all the receipts and tallied them up and breathed into a paper bag.

And still, in my heart of hearts, a tiny voice screams “THEY WILL TAX YOU AT A 150% RATE!”

I know this is irrational. It does not quell the tiny voice.

The Vision of Crazy-Wool

There has been a crazy awesome turn-out on the Patreon thing. You guys blow my mind. It pays for KUEC AND my antacids AND my coffee. I don’t know how to thank you.

So, err…have a story! For those of you who’ve played CrypticStitching, here’s a small prequel for your amusement. (And if you haven’t played it, Crazy-Wool is the stuffed Sheep shaman of Wool-Tribe, Quippet is his apprentice, and the (probably) Chosen of the Spirits…well, that’s the point of the game, after all.)

The Vision of Crazy Wool

It was dawn, or a little past it, and Crazy-Wool the shaman felt the urge to go into the forest.

He didn’t like the urge very much. Shamans get urges, same as the rest of us, mostly for naps and tea with extra honey in it. But they also get deep dark shamanistic urges, when the Unpatterned Land reaches out and pokes them.

The Unpatterned Land was poking Crazy-Wool now.

“Really?” said the Sheep aloud, glaring up at the smoke-hole with his one good eye. (His other eye was also perfectly good, but it saw into the world of the spirits, so it tended to be a little wild and rolling and not so good for mundane tasks, like glaring at the ceiling.)

“Really?”

The Unpatterned Land poked him again, in the urges.

Crazy-Wool swore. He swore with passion and depth and extraordinary breadth of knowledge. A moth that had gotten into the tent wandered within range of the shaman’s voice, which turned its wings soot-black and sent it crashing to the floor.

He swore some more.

Then he climbed to his feet and shook himself off. Bits of lint flew from his matted wool.

“Quippet! Quippet!”

Crazy-Wool reached into the aether a very short way and jabbed his apprentice’s brain.

There was a bleat of dismay from the tent that adjoined his. A moment later, his apprentice was fumbling at the tent flap.

“Master Crazy-Wool?”

“Make some tea, Quippet,” said the shaman. “There’s spirit work on the hoof.”

Quippet scurried into the tent as well as a small blue Sheep can scurry, and poked up the fire. He dumped a hoof-full of herbs into the mammoth bladder that served as a teapot and went rummaging for the honey jar.

“What sort of spirit work, master?”

“Haven’t the foggiest,” said Crazy-Wool. “The usual sort, I expect. Somebody needs a pebble moved six inches to the right so that the world doesn’t come crashing down around our ears. Some old spirit wants somebody to pay attention to them. Rains of fire and yams. You know the kind.”

Crazy-Wool grumbled his way through the tent, found his walking stick–bipedalism was harder than it used to be, the seams at his hips were stiff–and took down a sack in case whatever the Unpatterned Land was dumping on him required transport.

Quippet poured tea into one of the broad, shallow mugs favored by Sheep. Crazy-Wool lowered his head and drank deeply. Sharp herbs, sweet honey. He sighed. His mind was as alert as it had ever been, but his senses occasionally needed joggling.

“I hope you live to a ripe old age, Quippet. But not this old. Someday I’ll find the secret of my longevity, and when I do, I’m going to kick its stuffing out through its ears.”

“Yes, Master,” said Quippet dutifully. Quippet was always dutiful. Crazy-Wool didn’t know what he’d done, at his time of life, to deserve a conscientious and thoughtful apprentice. It was more than mortal fabric could bear.

He started for the tent flap and stopped.

His seams creaked as he reached down, picked up the stunned moth, and breathed life back into it. Its tattered wings flexed outward, suddenly the color of honeyed amber, and it turned its tiny, fuzzy antennae toward him.

Crazy-Wool grumbled and set it on top of his head, where it would be out of the way.

Then he stomped out of his tent and off toward the woods and whatever damnable destiny the universe had in store for him today.

He went into Withyjack Forest as deep as he cared to go, and then he stopped. One of the secrets that shamans know is that any place can be made sacred, if you’re willing to put your back into it. Some places are just more responsive than others.

The Withyjack Forest was occasionally a little too responsive. Gods had walked its rootbound halls in ages past, and it liked to wallow in nostalgia. Crazy-Wool thumped his cane on a tree trunk and Quippet jumped.

“You! Pay attention. No, not you, Quippet.” He cleared his throat. “I’m going to sit down here and try and get some work done. Make sure nothing terrible jumps down my throat while I’m doing it, eh?”

“Certainly, Master–“

“Not you, boy.”

The Sheep waited.

The wind overhead washed the leaves and set them rustling. One fell, fluttering, to the ground between Crazy-Wool’s front hooves.

“Good enough,” said the shaman. He sank down to all fours and stretched, then, regretfully, sat back up. It didn’t do to get too comfortable at his age. You laid down to do a little spirit work and you wound up taking an afternoon nap while the universe unraveled around you.

There, that was good. Nothing painful, nothing jabbing into him, but not in danger of going to sleep. He wiggled a bit to make sure his tail wasn’t getting pinched. There.

He closed his good eye and focused his spirit eye on the world.

It looked more or less the same, at least at first.

Same trees, same stones. The leaves glittered with a tracery of energy, and the fire at the heart of mountains burned inside the stones. The beech trees sang with golden light and the aspens shattered silver around him.

Same as it always was.

Quippet was surrounded by spirits, as usual. They danced around him like a gentle, permanent snowfall. The little Sheep was making discreet shooing motions, trying to get the spirits to leave while Crazy-Wool was spiritwalking. For some reason, his apprentice still thought that his spirits were a secret. Crazy-Wool was waiting for a properly dramatic moment to disillusion him.

Other than that, nothing.

The leaves rustled with green fire overhead.

“All right,” said Crazy-Wool, annoyed. “You’re the ones poking me. What’s so blasted urgent that I had to get up at the whalloping crack of dawn for it?”

A few minutes slid by, and then Crazy-Wool turned his head and there was a hare watching him.

The hare was as blue as a summer sky and had silver button eyes.

Well, these things happened.

It was watching Crazy-Wool in a way that an ordinary hare would find quite unnatural.

Crazy-Wool narrowed his spirit eye and stared at the hare.

The hare narrowed its silver button eyes and stared back.

Unhurriedly, almost reflexively, Crazy-Wool assessed the spirit world around him. The trees would help him if he asked–trees loved to be asked to do something. They were giving in ways that would be quite self-destructive in a mammal.

The stones might or might not help him. He could generally wake a stone from its slumber and make it pay attention to the here-and-now, but it took time that he might not have.

He spun his consciousness out, farther, farther, and there was Wool-Tribe’s meadow and the familiar gods of his people. None of them were actually paying attention, but he could call them up quick enough if he had to. The Snowfleece Maiden was positively soppy about Quippet, She’d be there in a heartbeat if She thought he was in trouble. That had to be worth something.

Farther out, across the steppes, roamed the Great Spirits, Tiger and Mammoth, Hyena and Bat–they would come to his aid if he called. Mammoth was almost as bad as a tree, and Hyena always liked it when a shaman owed Her favors.

Very well. He was not without protection. He turned his attention back to the silver-eyed hare.

“All right,” he said. “Show me.”

The hare leaped

It charged down the embankment toward him, doubling and tripling and quadrupling in size. It was larger than a mammoth when it landed before him, kicking up a fountain of leaves.

Crazy-Wool didn’t flinch. It was a point of professional pride.

The hare jumped over him.

As it passed over him, it grew again, until its body was the entire sky, the blazing blue of a summer afternoon. Its final leap seemed to have kicked the world away underneath it, for Crazy-Wool was no longer surrounded by forest, but by sky. If he looked closely, he could see the pale lines where the hare’s legs curved and trace the long sweep of its ears.

It was a neat trick. As visions went, this one was pretty good.

He appeared to be a small black cloud in the hare-belly sky. Crazy-Wool turned his head–best not to think too closely about his cloud anatomy–and gazed down.

The vast steppes stretched out beneath him, running to the ice wall in the north and the forests to the south. The glacier was a blinding rim of white around the world.

But what was this, to the south?

It was as if the glacier had developed an unnatural twin, dark instead of light. Shadow lay around the southern edge of the world, shadow as far as he could see.

Shamans do not fear darkness. Darkness is their element. Crazy-Wool preferred night to day, if only because you couldn’t see the stray bits of lint so clearly in daylight.

This was different.

Crazy-Wool scowled as fiercely as a cloud can scowl.

The light faded. The moon came up in the hare’s eye. Stars spangled its darkening fur.

The glacier blazed in the moonlight. Grass rippled on the steppes.

And the darkness to the south reared up and crashed like a wave, pouring over the world.

Crazy-Wool would have given a great deal to look away, but he did not.  His vision of himself would not allow it.

So he bore witness as the blackness reached his valley, pooling in the depths of Withyjack, then reached out to extinguish the campfires of Wool-Tribe. He watched the wave pour over the steppes, saw great mammoths pulled down by a shadow that seemed to have a thousand mouths and a thousand grasping claws.

At last the shadow reached the glacier, and there, at last, it broke. Crazy-Wool had only seen the sea in visions, but that was what it looked like–the sea smashing against stone, and the stone resisting.

He hung alone in the sky, while the world under him turned black.

After what felt like a long time, he turned his head. The sky-hare blinked the moon at him.

“Very well,” he said. “Very well. This is the shadow I’ve seen coming, then. The darkness at the edge of my mind. I was hoping I was just going senile, you know.”

The sky looked faintly abashed.

“You’re not telling me anything I didn’t expect. Not,” he amended, sighing, “that I wanted to be alive to see it.  I was rather hoping to pass along the word to young Quippet, gasp out something like “Believe in yourself. The fate of the world depends upon you,” and then slip gracefully into the Unpatterned Land.”

The moon blinked at him again.

“I suppose you’re right,” muttered Crazy-Wool. “If you want the world saved, you can’t leave it to spring lambs.”

He looked down at the crawling darkness and felt his lips pull back from his teeth, or whatever passed for teeth and lips in this body. “Nasty business.”

The moon closed in assent.

“You’re giving me some help, though,” said Crazy-Wool.

The sky-hare considered this.

“That wasn’t a request,” said Crazy-Wool testily. “I may be a cloud right now, but I’ll kick your pole star halfway to the equator if you think you’re leaving this all on me and Quippet.”

The sky moved. The moon swung close, and then Crazy-Wool was standing on the sky’s shoulder, looking down at the darkened earth.

The shadow had retreated. The terrible night of his vision had not yet come to pass. The darkness only lapped at the edge of the world, instead of consuming it, and yet Crazy-Wool could see it creeping closer.

And then there was a spark.

It had something of the silver shiver of aspen light. It was on the very edge of the shadow, shockingly bright against it.

“That better not be a chosen anything,” said Crazy-Wool. “I’m not kidding. I am way too old to deal with a–oh, son of a–“

The earth spun dizzily as the sky-hare bent down toward the light.

The light was moving closer. So was the shadow. It hardly seemed as if the light could outpace it, and yet it did, just a little.

Light and dark crawled with agonizing slowness along the bottom of the world.

It was a single figure, walking alone.

Crazy-Wool leaned forward and strained his spirit vision. He could not make out anything about the figure–young or old, Mouse or Sheep, Wolf or Bear. It could have been anyone.

It was very small, and the shadow behind it was very large.

He lifted his spirit eye to the darkness. For a moment, something seemed to flicker, like the movement of a fish just under the surface of the water.

Something gazed out of the dark at the shaman.

Crazy-Wool threw himself backward, off the shoulder of the sky.

Immediately he was falling. This was unsettling, but not nearly so unsettling as the thing that had looked at him from the shadow.

The sky-hare turned its head and caught his fabric in its teeth. It jerked its head and flung him sideways, out of the Unpatterned Land.

The shaman’s vision filled with shapes, going by too fast to see. He grasped for them but they turned to fragments and fled away from him as he fell–the flash of fireflies, a twisted tree, sunlight shining on the glacier’s edge.

Crazy-Wool was starting to worry that that he was going to fall forever in the spirit world, and just thinking that he should do something about that, when he fell back into his body and face-planted into the forest floor.

“Master!” gasped Quippet. “Are you all right?”

“I am fine,” said Crazy-Wool with dignity. “The world is most likely going to be destroyed and we are the last line of defense, except for some plush who is probably going to die before they get here. Other than that, completely fine. I hope you brought more tea.”

Quippet stared at him in abject horror.

“Tea,” said Crazy-Wool patiently, still chin-deep in leaf litter. “It is a beverage. You make it with hot water and herbs. You’re very good at it, which is the primary reason why you’re still my apprentice. That and your misplaced sense of duty.”

“The world is going to be destroyed?” whispered Quippet.

“Trust you to seize on the least important aspect of the whole thing. Yes. The world is going to be destroyed. That was always inevitable. We are merely forestalling the inevitable, which is what shamans do.” He considered this. “Also heroes. Also tea.”

He gave Quippet a very pointed look.

It took his apprentice a few minutes to cobble together a small fire. In the end, the little blue Sheep mumbled a request under his breath and a spark leapt up and danced between his hooves.

Sure, thought Crazy-Wool, half amused and half annoyed. Sure, the spirits love him. Well, that’s just how it is. Quippet was lovable. Crazy-Wool had been cynical even as a lamb, and the spirits respected him, but they didn’t fall all over themselves to smooth his path down, either.

Whether they’d fall all over themselves to smooth the way for that unknown plush out there…

Crazy-Wool closed his eyes and groaned.

“Are you all right, Master Crazy-Wool?”

“I am being crushed by the weight of an unkind universe. Other than that, fine. How’s the tea coming?”

By the time the tea was ready, he was just about ready to get up. Quippet hurried to brace him up.

He slurped up a few mouthfuls of tea and exhaled.

“Better–“ he said, and the world was engulfed in shadow.

He had only a heartbeat worth of warning. He flung himself over Quippet, knocking the smaller Sheep down, while blackness flowed over the forest.

Everything became muffled and flat. He could not see. The trees let out long, wordless vowels of pain.

“Master?” whispered Quippet.

“Hush.”

Crazy-Wool was reasonably certain that he wasn’t in the Unpatterned Land, for the simple reason that his joints didn’t ache when he was in the Unpatterned Land. Whatever was happening was not quite real, but a long way from a hallucination.

A wind struck them, smelling of cold earth. Things rustled. In the dark, something was searching for them, making wet, snuffling sounds.

Crazy-Wool reached out to the trees. They shuddered with fear, as much as trees can be frightened.

Under his touch, they quieted and listened.

Hide us, he said. Please.

The trees leaned together, whispering. The wet, searching noises came nearer.

A pile of leaves as large as a grown Sheep dropped onto them.

Quippet let out a thin bleat of terror. Crazy-Wool stifled a laugh. Ask trees for help, and get leaves. Well, what had he expected?

They lay in silence, hidden under the leaves.

Whatever the thing was, it came closer. Assuming that they were still in the same clearing—and Crazy-Wool wasn’t sure that was a safe assumption—it was just on the other side of a line of trees.

Nasty sound. Like a pig with a head cold.

The snuffling came closer—tried—and to judge by the noises, ran into a wall of branches. Crazy-Wool strained his ears and heard the crack of wood and a muffled squeal of pain.

Just so long as we don’t make a sound, the trees will keep it out. If it knows we’re in here, trees might not be enough.

He didn’t dare poke Quippet, either physically or with his mind, for fear of startling his apprentice. He prayed the little Sheep would stay quiet.

Either he had chosen his apprentice wisely, or a spirit had whispered wisdom into Quippet’s ear. There were no sounds.

It was enough.

The thing that searched for them searched in vain.

A long time later, he heard it howling, far away, a howl of failure and despair. Its master would not be pleased.

Crazy-Wool exhaled and rolled off Quippet.

“Ow,” said his somewhat flattened apprentice. “Is it safe now?”

“Safe,” said Crazy-Wool, rolling the word around. “Safe. Interesting question. It’s not quite as dangerous as it was, how’s that?”

“It’s still dark,” said Quippet. “And I can’t hear the–“

He stopped.

Can’t hear the spirits, finished Crazy-Wool internally. No, because they’re smarter than the rest of us, and they didn’t want to call attention to you, so they cleared out and didn’t get stuck in here with us. Very sensible of them. I wonder what would have happened if that thing found us? Would the Snowfleece Maiden have come in like a blizzard and frozen it in its tracks, or are we beyond Her sight as well?

It was an interesting thought. He hoped he wouldn’t have to put it to the test.

He looked around, which was a pointless endeavor, because the world was still as black as pitch.

“What’s happening?” asked Quippet.

“Someone appears to have torn a hole in the world,” said Crazy-Wool.

“That sounds bad.”

“Trust that feeling.”

“Does it have something to do with the end of the world?”

Crazy-Wool snorted. “No, it’s because I was a damn fool and tried to make eye contact with a nightmare. Stupid. You’d think at my age I’d know better.”

“I’m sure no one could have done better,” said Quippet loyally.  Crazy-Wool gritted his teeth.

He turned around in a circle, or what felt like one. It was difficult to tell.

“Are we stuck?” asked Quippet.

“Not if we can find our way out. If we can’t, the world will sew itself up–it doesn’t like holes–and we’ll be stuck on the wrong side of it.”

He considered an eternity stuck in a pocket universe with Quippet’s earnest good nature. It did not bear contemplating.

“You never told me that was possible,” said Quippet.

“I didn’t want to worry you,” said Crazy-Wool. “You might have stopped making tea.”

Quippet gave him a betrayed look.

“All shamans lie to their apprentices. Nobody would ever become a shaman if they knew what it was really like. Incidentally, I saw that look you just gave me, so something’s happening.”

The light was very faint, but growing stronger. Crazy-Wool could see tiny reflections in Quippet’s eyes.

“It’s coming from your head,” said Quippet, staring at him.

Crazy-Wool tried to see through the top of his own head, which was impossible even for shamans.

The light moved.

The honey-amber moth spread its wings and flew.

It circled Quippet’s head twice and landed, very briefly, on his nose. The little Sheep’s eyes crossed trying to look at it. It waved its antennae at him.

Then it lifted off and flew away.

“Follow that moth!” cried Crazy-Wool.

The two Sheep staggered after it. Crazy-Wool’s right side was not happy with the way it had been treated, and Quippet had to shore him on that side. Like three-legged lambs, like drunks, like shamans, they wobbled after it, threading between the dark lines of trees, and emerged suddenly into the sunlight.

Crazy-Wool fell down and took Quippet with him.

“Are we safe now?” asked Quippet.

“You keep asking that…” He closed his eyes. His wool was full of leaves. In a few hours, he was going to have to get up and dig around until he found that pocket universe and turn it inside out. The trees didn’t deserve to be stuck in there.

And after that, the end of the world, sole savior of plushkind, all that crap.

After a minute, he said “You know, I could really go for a cup of tea.”

Quippet sighed and got to his feet.

The amber moth spiraled upward, into the daylight, and was lost against a sky as blue as the belly of a hare.

Okay, let’s give this Patreon thing a try…

All right! So as some of you recall, we spent a lot of time talking about Patreon recently, and I really appreciate the various insights from people on the topic. And while I had originally been a little iffy, some of you made some really good points, and we never get anywhere if we don’t try.

I’m willing to give it a try. We have super small donation tiers–$1 or $2, recurring monthly–so…let’s try it.

Buy Ursula Coffee (or Antacids) Fund

Now, the plug may get pulled on this at some point, if I start feeling like I’m not giving people good value for money–I love that so many of you want to kick me down a few bucks, but certain parts of my psyche are fragile in weird ways. And I absolutely, positively PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t want anybody to feel that because they can’t kick in a buck a month, they are somehow less of a fan. You’re not, I love you, I’ve been there, it’s totally cool.

But hey, let’s see how this thing works!

Twine, Stuff, Games, Stories, Nothing Much

I’ve successfully ported approximately a quarter of the StoryNexus version of Cryptic Stitching over to Twine. The occasional card gets pruned, the occasional card gets added (there will be words about all those hamsterhide towels!) but mostly it’s holding pretty similar. Achievements are now much fewer, since I don’t need those markers to keep track of variables. (God, hidden variables, best thing ever!)

Thank you, by the way, to everybody who’s said such nice things playing Cryptic Stitching! It’s so cool to have people like a game I’ve made–I mean, art, sure, writing, sure, but this is a whole new field for me and I went way overboard rather than starting small and establishing my skills and all the stuff you’re probably supposed to do. It means a lot to me that so many of you are enjoying it! (Also, in answer to an e-mail–yes, you can totally do fan-fic or fan art if you want, I’m not allowed to read the fic, but I’m delighted to see the art. Consider it a blanket permission, this is not at all a world I’m bothered by having people playing in!)

And I was thrilled to realize today that I do not actually have any art that I’m under deadline for! (There’s plenty of stuff I still need to DO, but at least I’m done with that book and can’t yet start the next one!) It was so liberating I sat down and finished a short story that’s been kicking around for a few weeks. This will undoubtedly end once I finish editing the Hamster Princess book (hopefully tomorrow) and send it in.

Finishing a short story–it’s going to get submitted somewhere, and then if they don’t bite, it’ll go into that anthology I keep threatening to do–I started trying to add up my various stories, just as my own particular metric…

12 short stories (Most which y’all have seen already, and not counting various little vignettes, like the one about Peter Pan and “Night is the longest running show in the universe” and so forth….)
3 adult novels (counting Black Dogs as two, and the one Beauty & the Beast thing out with my agent now)
2 novellas (Nine Goblins, and Boar & Apples, which is out for editing right now, and will form the backbone of said anthology.)
13 kid’s…ah…if I go by wordcount, they’d be considered “novelettes.” Actually, I kinda like that term. Lets them stand by themselves. A dozen novelettes sold, then, two forthcoming, one lurking and unsold. Give it time. (My agent swears we will someday be vindicated on the Battlesheep.)
2 kid’s novels (the witch book, which will be titled Castle Hangnail and the bread wizard one, which is currently in a weird limbo, but will hopefully come out of it in the next couple years.)
Digger, which I’m just leaving as its own thing, because hell. Digger.

That’s…not terrible, actually, in terms of completion. I’d like there to be more novels.

Then I go rummaging through my hard drive and there’s a bunch of things that have been lurking there for awhile, unfinished but which get pulled out and words piled on occasionally. Of those, there’s

1 short story
2 kid’s novelettes (the second Hamster Princess book, in progress, and the poor stalled sequel to Nurk)
6 adult novels
4 kid’s novels
5 novellas (including the next Goblin story)

not including:
2 novels which appeared permanently stalled out, although one never knows…
a couple of odds and ends that could turn into anything

Which seems like a lot of stuff unfinished, I realize–ten novels! Lord! That’s a huge number!–but I find it rather comforting, actually. If I get a mad urge to finish a book, I have stuff where I am finishing, not writing from scratch. And I can be pretty sure that most of those will get finished some day–I do finish things, fairly regularly, and that works primarily because I have nearly finished things lying around. (Next time I get an urge to work on the ninja accountant story, for example, it’ll probably be to finish it.)

So that’s nice.

I could totally be working on my big computer, but it is a cold gray day, so I am under the electric blanket with my laptop. It is lovely. I have tea. I believe will go port more Twine cards. And drink tea.

So Let’s Talk About Patreon…

In the last few weeks, I’ve been getting occasional comments and e-mails suggesting I set up a Patreon account, which is a sort of patronage model where a “patron” sets up a monthly donation to a “creator” because they like what they’re doing and want them to continue.

And I have mixed feelings about this, and want to talk about it and get y’all’s thoughts, so here goes…

Point The First: It’s awesome that people want to throw money at me! I am terribly grateful and flattered! Please don’t think I object to that, because woo, hoo, no way, people want to give me money, not a complaint! Trust me!

And I understand that there’s a kind of thing here–a commenter said it very well, actually–which, to paraphrase, is “I’ve bought your books, I’ve bought as much art as I want/can fit on the walls, how do I keep giving you money to keep doing awesome stuff when you’re out of stuff to buy?”

And this, too, I totally understand–one failing of that whole “1000 true fans” thing that went around for awhile was the fact that a lot of creators don’t have $100 worth of new stuff available per year. (There were a lot of other failings, if you ask me, most significantly that it defined “true fan” as “person with disposable income” and I think that’s kinda bullshit. I have fans who cheer wildly for my successes who are scraping by working two jobs, and I resent relegating them to “less-true fan” status even in theory. But anyway.)

So yeah, I can see that if somebody wants to support the Ursula Vernon Experience, there’s limited venues. I mean, I put out two kid’s books and maybe one self-pub a year. That’s…err… well, at current royalty rates, I get $5 a year if somebody buys all three. You can back the Digger Kickstarter (and OMG, so many of you backed the Kickstarter! Still wowed!) but how often do I do a Kickstarter? I don’t even paint that many originals any more, because I’m so busy with illustrations for Dragonbreath, and if you’re out of wall space, it doesn’t matter anyway.

But then we get to…

Point the Second: Owing people things scares me.

People suggested Kickstartering Cryptic Stitching (both the StoryNexus version and the future Twine) and my knee jerked so hard in the other direction I about dislocated my hip.

Because, thing is, if I take money for a specific thing, I have to do that specific thing. And I have to do it well enough and fast enough that people don’t feel ripped off–or that I don’t feel like I’m ripping them off. And if it’s different, in the end, then what they thought they were getting, what if they hate it? What if I am that Awful Person Who Took People’s Money And Made A Crappy Product With It?

This is why I’ve tried to get away from commissions, because the stress about killed me.

Now, I think it’s awesome that people are trying to find ways to make sure that I have the money to Make Cool Stuff and they want to contribute to Getting Cool Stuff Made! I am thrilled that you think I make Cool Stuff! That is awesome!

But there is a voice in my head–no, not in my head, a voice that lives under my breastbone and whispers to me like Sweetgrass Voice, saying What if you can’t deliver? Everyone fails eventually–that’s not poison, that’s life. When you fail on your own time, it doesn’t matter. When you fail with other people’s money, that matters.

If CrypticStitching2.0 never gets made, say, (and lord, I hope it will!) people will be disappointed and I’ll be bummed, but nobody paid me for it, so it’s just a cool thing that I wanted to make that didn’t work out, not a thing that people have a right to expect. Particularly not a thing they have a right to expect on a specific timeline.

At the moment, I owe the following to various sources, either because they’ve paid me or by verbal contract:

1 book cover
2 sketchbook illustrations
1 commission when I get around to it (they’re being very nice about that)
5 Digger podcasts (one is in the bag already, but needs remastering)
7 convention appearances in the next year, 5 of which have attendant art shows and 2 of which require me to write speeches.
1 book fair appearance, with corresponding talk
3 children’s books written
4 children’s books illustrated, at approx. 150 per, so 600 illustrations. (Over the next three years. Only 300 of them are this year!)
4 children’s book covers
Couple of RPG illos for that one cool thing
2 single panel comics

This is kind of a lot. And by that I mean, I just clutched my chest and had to breathe into a paper bag for a few minutes, because holy crap. (And I wanted to get a self-pub anthology out this year, too! Yikes! What was I thinking?)

The children’s books don’t weigh on me as much, because that’s my job and it’s less of a weight and more of a getting-up-and-going-to-work thing. But otherwise, that’s all stuff I have to get done. Some of it fairly soon.

I don’t think I can add anything else to the pile without going barking mad. CrypticStitching is awesome because I don’t owe it to anyone, it’s just a thing I do for love and because I want it to exist, but the moment it becomes something I have to do, the whole dynamic shifts.

Which brings me to…

Point the Third: What are you paying for, anyway?

If someone wanted to throw money at me with Patreon, in support of…err…”Ursula does vaguely entertaining blog stuff AND a couple podcasts AND writes books AND draws pictures now and again AND spends a lot of time obsessing over mulch,” I have no inherent objection to that. But I start to fret a little over the notion of whether people are getting their money’s worth.

I mean, say you’re giving me $5 a month to make the world a slightly odder place. And one month I’m on fire. I put out something like CrypticStitching, which is $25 bucks of entertainment value!

Does that mean we’re cool for the next five months? If I have a bad month and all the blog posts are just “Can’t hack life, busy, talk later” are you getting your $5 worth? If I post a painting, is that worth it? If I get into a fight about SFWA and you’re tired of reading about my outrage that I’m tired of feeling, do you pull your funding?

What’s a patron entitled to? I know somebody who’s doing an icon set a month, which is cool, but we all know it ain’t gonna happen here. I might get two months done and then I’d want to run screaming into the night. If you’re a big fan of KUEC and we have to stop some day because our internal organs have been reduced to pencil shavings, will you be sad and want your money back?

Would it be a better deal if you got my self-pub stuff free if you were a patron? (I could maybe manage that…)

Point the Third Point Five: There’s one element of Patreon I find weird–the way they talk about connecting to creators via their specific forums or mailing list or whatever. It makes it sound almost like the patron gets a backstage pass. And there I start to feel really weird, because believe me, there is no backstage to this outfit.

There’s not even a front stage.

Actually, I think I’m crouched behind a cardboard box with a sock puppet.

So if people buy into this notion that somehow being a patron gets them extra-special access to yours truly…um…there’s nothing extra-special TO access. You’ve got the maximum level of access right here, via blog comments and e-mail. (And feel free to comment! I will even comment back if you have a question I can answer! I hope everybody knows that–I had multiple people saying “Wow, I can comment and you answer!” about the CrypticStitching stuff, and I want everybody to know that’s not unusual–I really do talk on the blog! And on Twitter!)

I am not more me in other places than I am here. There is no hamster behind the curtain.

I don’t want anybody to get the impression that the secret to getting my attention is money. I mean, don’t get me wrong, if you wave a thousand dollars at me, you will have my attention, but it will not be a better Ursula or a more clever one. It will probably be a slightly paranoid one going “Why is this person waving a thousand dollars at me!? Is this an FBI sting?”

Point the Last: All this makes me sound like I’m horribly opposed to the Patreon model, or the patronage model in general, and the thing is, I’m really not. I actually think it’s a really awesome idea to have an easy and convenient way to support people who you want to keep creating stuff. And, in all modesty, this sort of thing actually works really well for people like me, who dabble in a dozen different things and give half of them away for free on-line.

I think those of us on the internet who are kind of…mm…you know, Makers of Random Cool Stuff…are great use-cases for patronage systems. I may not want to buy any particular thing from an artist, but I may be delighted at what they do and want them to keep doing it and want to kick a couple bucks toward them to keep them able to do it. And that’s fantastic!

I’m just not entirely sure that it’s a good idea for me, and I want to make sure everybody knows what we’re looking at in terms of what you get for the money…

So hey, let’s talk! What do you guys think–both of Patreon in general for supporting creators or in specific?

Twinification Continues!

I’m slowly porting everything over–I’ve got all the newcomer quests in, Frogquest and all the various grind* quests from Moon-Stuffing Camp.

It takes awhile.

For one thing, the cards grow enormously upon import–one “card” in StoryNexus becomes at least two in Twine (which makes sense–cause, then effect!) but most of them become three or four (and in one epic case, twelve!)

The current arrangement is that when you’re in Moon-Stuffing Camp, you’ll get access to whatever quest lines are currently “live”–the Frog questline, for example, or talking to the Sorrowful Oryx or whatnot–and then you’ll also have a random grind quest available. There’s ten possibilities, one of which could come up at any given time. If you want to grind, you can, but you can also just ignore it in favor of something else, which will mean (hopefully!) less tedium than the StoryNexus version–you don’t have to keep playing the same cards just to get them out of your hand and hope something more fun will come up.

There will also be a randomized merchant who will appear regularly but not every single time you visit. (Presumably Wool-tribe will be very similar, although I haven’t started that section yet–working on Moon-Stuffing and Streamside at the moment.)

Kevin has very kindly built me a skill check function, which is awesome and saves on typing. Skills are probably going to build more slowly in this version (which is good, because they built comparatively fast in SN–a couple turns in Withyjack and you could max out Keen, for example) but since you will probably have unlimited turns, it should all work out. (There will be a lot of re-balancing in playtesting, I expect…)

Despite the fact that it’s slow-going–on a good day, I can port maybe five or six cards, which, given there’s 450+ in StoryNexus, means it’ll be awhile!–there’s a lot of cool stuff I’m able to do now. If I want someone’s dialog to change based on your species, I can just DO it, not have to tediously set up six different nearly identical click-throughs. And with stuff like Frogquest, when you wander through camp, you actually get the Frog watching you and lurking and you see little wet footprints outside your yurt and things, even if you can’t do anything about it until a little later. (Which I think is awesome, although the players may just go mad.)

I’m looking forward to actually getting to the storyline quests, rather than the grind stuff, although it’s important to get those worked out, because that’s where a lot of the important mechanics are, and if I break one of those, it’s not nearly so crucial as if I break a major storyline.

(I am NOT looking forward to porting the Steppes section, although I’ve got some idea on how to do it–that’s gonna require some revamping, and I expect it will take weeks to recreate properly. Oh well…)

*Used in the sense that you can do them repeatedly to build skills/make money, and they don’t change significantly or advance the storyline.

Of Books and Binding!

Got an inquiry as to the nature of the binding on the Digger Omnibus edition, from someone wanting to buy it, but concerned about bindings on a book large enough to beat someone to death with.

This is a good question. Binding is very important. I turned to Jeff of Sofawolf for the info, and here’s what I’ve got.

The softcovers are called “PUR” perfect binding, which has to do with the chemical composition of the adhesive. It lays flatter than vinyl acetate and is very durable for standard usage. As with anything, it’s not immortal, but it’ll hold up as well as any other professionally produced, non-mass-market softcover, with all the usual caveats about not soaking it in water and taking a hammer to the spine and so forth. But it should hold up pretty darn well.

The hardcovers are smyth-sewn, which means the pages are collected in bunches and actually stitched together — then backed with fabric and adhesive before being bound into the hard covers. This is very durable and considered “library-quality” by some (I get the impression that there are debates over the nature of library bindings, and it is not a settled matter, so we won’t get into that–I caught a vague whiff of flame wars past in the air, as one sometimes does.) Anyway, this is uber-durable, give-to-your-heirs stuff–which is why it’s more expensive.

Either should last a goodly long time, but the hardcover of course is going to last longer, same as any other book.

I hope that helps!

You can order either version of the omnibus through Sofawolf Press.

More Twine Thoughts…

So I’ve successfully–at least, I hope–at least, nothing looks broken–ported the prologue of Cryptic Stitching over to the Twine engine. (We’re a long way from playtesting, but rest assured, there will be a call for testers when we get there!)

(Incidentally, if you are stuck or want to ask for hints or share what you’ve learned playing Cryptic Stitching 1.0, head on over to LJ and this entry, which I’ve got set up for that purpose.)

I’m using the SugarCube version of Twine, which allows for saving the game (a function one could not do without!) and apparently won’t clutter up the browser cache in some obscure but apparently significant fashion.*

The differences between the two engines are interesting. StoryNexus is really cool and has a great interface, but has some significant limitations. Twine ultimately looks much more flexible but you have to do a lot more in the guts.

I’m not sorry I started in StoryNexus–the system made me think about what I was doing a lot, and the ultimate Twine result will be heavily influenced by those choices. Switching does allow me to rectify some rather clunky workarounds I developed, based on the fact that I started without any kind of plan. (The travel system in Cryptic Stitching is pretty much held together with chewing gum and paperclips. It will work MUCH BETTER in Twine.)

Some other useful things, at least so far–randomized flavor text and (I think) the ability to have merchants show up in camp at random, without having to visit them. (And the ability to sell ALL of an item, instead of doing it painfully one click at a time, which was clumsy as all hell in StoryNexus and wasted turns and turns and turns.)

Also, no spoilers in the “This card unlocked with:” mouseover, which I found maddening and there was no way to turn off. Also, there are no hidden variables in StoryNexus–everything must be visible to the player in some fashion–so I was making visible variables do some VERY questionable duties. (For example, your yurt, over on the StoryNexus sidebar? That value controls at least three different questlines, possibly more. And if you level your pet lungfish, your inventory says you have two of them. Necessity is a mutha.)

But there’s a couple of things I’ll miss very much–the inventory system was nice, and the ability to use objects on the fly. For example, at the moment, it’s looking like you’re going to have to return to your yurt in order to heal yourself, which is less convenient (but does have the advantage of making death more likely! And cool things happen when you die! Everyone should try it at least once!**)***

One thing this is doing it making me re-analyze how I laid the game out. Because of the way StoryNexus worked, with various “areas” that controlled what cards you got, I’m still thinking in terms of areas in the game. Each of these areas is getting a “hub” card–Wool-Tribe, Moon-Stuffing Camp, Withyjack Forest, the Steppes, etc. The hub always allows certain options, coinciding to the pinned cards at the bottom of the screen in StoryNexus. Various quests lead one away from the hub, then back to it (or to another hub.)

One truly great advantage of StoryNexus was the ability to make events seem to take time. If you’re chasing the Sinister Frog around, it doesn’t happen all in one long run–you chase him, then you do some other stuff, then that damn Frog is staring at you again, and there’s a real sense of elapsed time. You are–at least, I hope!–looking forward to getting another Frog card to figure out what happens next.

It’s an effect you don’t get nearly so much if you just keep clicking choices at the bottom of the screen, ya know?

I think one of the big challenges of Twine will be creating that feeling. If you follow every story line in a linear fashion, there’s a lot less anticipation. (The downside being frustration, because goddamnit it, I want to chase the Frog and somebody’s trying to get me to use every part of the bloody reindeer again.)

Here’s my thought–I’m bouncing this off you guys, since I know there are many coders and designers reading, so feel free to chime in.

<esotericcrap>

One of the useful functions is <<display>> which lets you pull in the contents of another–I keep thinking of them as “cards” because of StoryNexus, so let’s go with that, even though they are more properly called “passages”–into the current card you’re reading. So our hub card for Moon-Stuffing has

<<display “randomcampflavor”>>

<<display “randommerchant1”>>

And those are all other cards off to the side which can be full of ugly variables and if/else statements. The first one prints a text string which provides a little local color, and the second one controls the random merchant function, which I am still tinkering with.

Taking the Sinister Frog example, I’m wondering if I could get the emotional impact I want by having

<<display “frogquest”>> planted in the hub card.

and then have “frogquest” be randomized , so that, say, two out of three times there was a call to “frogquest,” you get nothing, and the third time, the next stage of the Sinister Frog pops up. (Essentially you’d need to wander through the hub and then it might or might not appear.)

If you follow it, well and good, if not, the next time you show up, there’s a 1-in-3 chance it’ll be there. (Or 1-in-4 or 1-in-10 or whatever. That’s a balance issue, and will come out in playtesting, I expect.)

(My random event design is a little clunky, but not, I think, particularly onerous–assign a random number to a variable every time the card is called, and if the random number is X, the linked quest line comes up. Once the quest line is completely finished, calling the card does nothing–well, prints a space, actually–and should be largely invisible to the player.)

My only fear is that if I do this too much, I risk winding up with WALL OF OPTIONS on the hub card, as ten different quests all fight for space. The randomization may help keep that down, but then again, it may not. I suppose I could even randomize which <<display>> options come up–assign them all a number value and roll a random number and pull up whichever number comes up, but now we’re getting into walls of variables…

I dunno, anybody got any thoughts?

</esotericcrap>

 

* I understand nothing.

**In the game. Obviously.

***The code problem is thus–I can make an inventory button on the sidebar which displays your inventory when clicked easily enough, and then returns you to the game using a function <<back>>. This function returns you to the last page you were on without retrigging the functions on that page. (Otherwise, you could just sit on a page where you got paid and just visit your inventory over and over again to retrigger the function that increases your money.) However, if I want anything that happens on that inventory page to stick–using healing herbs, say–I have to use the function <<return>> which does re-trigger the functions on whatever page you were on, which could potentially be a game-destroying bug.

So I think I’m making an executive decision that the only way to get healed is to go back to your yurt, unless one of you clever devils can think of a workaround. *grin*