Friday, August 30, 2013

Steampunk Roo - A new children's story

I'm interrupting edits on my novel to write a story for my daughter's tenth birthday.  I've decided to call it "Steampunk Roo" since my daughter's nickname is "Roo".

The concept is that a Steampunk Kangaroo has discovered that water stops are being vandalized.  It's terrible news for the Steampunk animals of Australia.  Steampunk Roo and Buzz, a Steampunk dragonfly, are on a mission to solve the problem.

The fun part of this story is coming up with all the ways that the Steampunk animals work and interact.  In addition to that, they live in Steampunk Canyon, which has been fun to create too.  The problem is that I'm trying to write a children's book and that means I have a limited number of words to work with!  I have to tell the story at some point!


Steampunk Roo turned and hopped through the vast grasslands in search of watering hole to replenish her tank.  If she didn't get water soon, she wouldn't be able to move at all!  She had been traveling all through the hot day to get to Steampunk Canyon.

Pistons in her kangaroo legs pushed onto springs that propelled her forward at a ground eating twenty miles per hour.  Copper, brass and steel gears turned, adding tension to thick bands of rubber that would store energy for the next hop.  A belly oven burned coal to heat a large water tank that in the rest of her upper body.

Gears in her neck allowed her head to turn upward.  It was finally cooling off as the sun lowered and thin clouds slid across the sky to provide some shade.  She scanned the grasslands for signs of danger and saw movement in the distance to her right.  Tiny gears allowed the mechanical lenses of her eyes to slide forward and zoom in on it.  A family of Steampunk wallabies foraged peacefully.

I'll publish this story sometime in the next couple of weeks.  I hope you'll enjoy reading it just as much as I enjoy writing it. :)

All my best,

John H. Carroll

Monday, August 26, 2013

My Dream Gourd

My Dream Gourd

What is a dream gourd?

I first read about dream gourds in Piers Anthony's "Xanth" series.  The dream gourd is essentially a theatre setting where the Night Stallion sets up nightmares for people.  These nightmares are delivered by "Night Mares" travelling to people to deliver the bad dreams.  Day Mares deliver daydreams.

I dream in a similar way to the dream gourd.  It's not like in the book where there's a bunch of horses delivering dreams out of a set of course.  Below, I list many of the details of the dream gourd that is my head.

There are many more settings than I list, but here are a few of them.  I just jotted everything down out of my memory, so aspects won’t always be very clear to the reader.

Important Details


These are always changing.  Most are just extras in a movie.  I may know some of them, but they’re not important.  Others may be people I’ve never met.

Often, I’ll have someone I know with me.  When that happens, I’m usually trying to handle an issue with them, or we’re on an adventure together, or it’s just someone I haven’t seen in forever and they’re just there for no reason I can figure out.



The details of what I’m doing and why are usually different.  Those details effect the props in the settings to a degree.  I’m not going to explain details here.



Each of my settings have blackout paths.  These are routes that don’t lead to a specific area, but to a blackout. 

In my dream gourd, a blackout isn’t a bad thing, it’s merely a transition.  I can leave the dream to go into a deep sleep, I can leave the dream to wake up, or I can transition to another setting.



Another cool feature is a small rewind.  I can rewind a moment of different dreams if I need to see how it works out with a different response on my part.  It helps me to learn how to handle the situation better.


Escape routes

One of my favorite features in all of my settings is an abundance of escape routes.  They allow me to escape the dream and wake up.

If a dream turns into a nightmare, I can use these escape routes.  If I am in danger in the dream, I can use the escape routes.



There is only one thing I can think of at the moment (there may be many more, I just can’t think of them) that I need to escape from in my dream.  That thing is a pack of dogs/wolves.  I don’t know why, but this is the one thing that scares me in my dreams.

It starts out with them in the far distant.  I usually get quiet in the dreams, hoping they don’t notice me.  Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not.

I continue having the dream for a while, but they get closer.  When they get close enough, they spread out and flank me.  It’s their intention to surround me.  This is when I begin panicking.

When I see them is when I must have an escape route.  If I don’t have one, I run for the nearest.  It’s truly frightening to me in the dream.  At this point, I usually begin whimpering in my sleep.  I’ll yell out loud if they reach me and I have to fight them.


Transition settings

Street near a mall and an aqueduct kinda in Los Angeles

There is an aqueduct that crosses a street in Los Angeles.  I remember crossing it a few times.  The dream doesn’t have that exact aqueduct, but that’s the model for this dream setting.  Around the aqueduct are other streets, strip malls, a residential neighborhood and a shopping mall.  I’m usually trying to escape something in this setting and it has different routes away.  It may be a crossroads between other dreams, because there is no definitive place to go to from here.  Each route blacks out.



This is a large locker room bathroom with changing rooms, toilet stalls and urinals.  It’s dark, in disrepair, creepy and a bit uncomfortable.  The lights are usually flickering.  When there are other men in the bathroom, they are usually quiet and distant.  The bathroom is a transition area.  Many places lead to it, it leads to many others.  Instead of blackout paths, it has doors though.  Sometimes I look for a specific door, but it won’t be there.  The layout of this bathroom usually changes based upon how I enter it.  I can occasionally break down a wall to get to another area.

And yes, sometimes I do use the bathroom.  Sometimes I change.  Sometimes I’m searching for something hidden.

And no, I never wake up with a wet bed when I use this bathroom. :p lol


The basement

This is the inside of a building with lots of  halls and rooms large and small.  There are usually alternate routes to reach the roof of different buildings.  Some of these are hidden and dangerous.  At least one leads to the ruins in the cliffs.  Another leads to the bathroom.  There are lots of pipes along some of the walls.  Other places are storage rooms with different things and crates, usually messy.  There’s a boiler room there too.

I’m usually trying to get somewhere when I’m here.  Trying to find the right path is the key to this setting.  Most of the routes to the higher areas are secret paths with wooden boards and tight spaces.



The most realistic setting is California City, where I grew up.  It’s an important setting.

Empty lot across from house on Corwin in California City.  Usually a scenario with flying machines that carry doomsday bombs.

Streets in California City across from Circle Blvd?  They lead to my house and I usually am in a time crunch to make it in time.

Shopping Mall in California City.  Dreams usually start in the front parking lot and work through one of the stores to the back streets, which lead to my house after that.

California City Blvd.  This leads to the Shopping Mall or the Park.  I’m usually chasing someone or someone is chasing me.

Park in California City.  There are two entrances.  There is usually a choice made here.  One entrance leads to the church in town, the other leads to the main parking lot of the park which allows me to go to different areas of the park.

House on South Charlene in California City.  I rarely go into either of the houses.  The dreams are usually outside.  Here, the streets around the house play the biggest role.  There’s usually a journey before reaching the area.  Most things happen around the long row of windbreak trees.  There’s a lot of going back and forth either hiding from someone or someone hiding from me.

Intersection of Hwy 14 and California City Blvd.  There’s a convenience store there.  I’m usually going to California City or away from it to Mojave.  There’s usually a decision to be made as to direction of my life.  The other two directions lead to blackouts.

Where Cache Creek intersects Hwy 14.  This is usually where a barrier happens.  The road washes out or I’m forced into the desert.  I have to overcome the obstacles.



Intersection of Hwy 14 and Sierra Hwy.  (still Hwy 14)  There is a gas station there called the Oasis.  I have to make choices and argue with whoever wants me to do something else here.

Railroad in Mojave.  I end up on a street that the train crosses.  I’m almost always driving and have to make it across the tracks before the train.  Usually signifies a deadline of sorts.

The streets outside are in Mojave and are usually reached by that location, often related to the trains.  I’m usually passing people on the way to school and take one route.  Other times, I’m leaving and go by different streets.  One street is a tree lined blvd that is not normally in Mojave.  There are always groups of people on these streets.  Some are dangerous, most are not.

The streets lead to areas around Sierra Hwy, the main street the town was built around and where I took drivers ed.  There are rows of houses in my setting that are very dangerous.  The streets and alleys pass gangs where it’s possible for me to get attacked.  These streets are not in the real Mojave. 

There are shops and buildings next to the Hwy 58/Sierra Hwy intersection.  I have a number of choices as to where to go from here.  Usually into the housing area or to Sierra Hwy to leave.  I can also do the train challenge from here.

There is a desert mountain nearby that I can go to.  I don’t remember much more, but it leads to various desert paths.


Sierra Hwy.

Sierra Hwy continues from Mojave to Los Angeles.  The dream version is different from the real version though.

The desert section goes by the desert mountain.  A path leads to it.  Between that and a specific freeway exit is a connection of roads that go into the desert.  To the left, they go to a couple of different ghost towns.

The highway continues through a mountain pass.  It’s very curvy and can become a tunnel.  There’s a rest stop to the right that I can go to, usually to discover some sort of treasure, or something important.  I’m usually happy when I leave here.

The city comes down out of the tunnel to a city resembling LA.  To the right is a hillside area with drivable roads.  It leads to caves where I can hide or search for things.

As I get further into the city, it becomes night and all the lights are on.


Ghost town one.

It’s not really a ghost town, just a small town.  This is off a mountain freeway.  It circles from the mountain on two exits.  It’s a bit of a challenge to get to it.

There is a glass-front house in the town.  There is usually some sort of trouble with the law here.

If I go on the street to the left, it leads to the desert north of California City.  From there, I can take the back way to the treebreak on South Charlene.


Ghost town two

There are some mountains in the distance that I can reach.  The tallest has a trail from one of the ghost towns to reach the top.  From the top, you can travel along the ridge of the mountain to another city.


The School

I went to Mojave High School in Mojave California.  The outside of the school is here.  The inside is an consolidation of the school and other places.

I take the bus to the parking lot.  Sometimes it’s the wrong bus, sometimes it’s crowded.  There’s usually someone trying to bully me or someone else on the bus.  I believe there’s conflict resolution here.

The parking lot is always full of cars and busses.  There are lots of people here. 

Inside are glass hallways (Not Mojave High)  They lead to different classrooms.  I’m often just beginning school, or I’ve graduated and I’m revisiting.

There are classrooms and I am usually late to reach them.  They are full and I am there to meet with a student or a teacher.  Most of the time they direct me to someplace else.

There is a grassy area outside of the classroom area.  It leads to a circular building with a large parking lot.  I can go in here and search for something.  There are a lot of glass encased classrooms here.

There is a football field next to the gym.  But there’s also a grassy parade field next to it too.  The parade field is where a lot of band routines happen when I’m not in the band.  When I am in the band, I think they happen  . . . wait, that’s not right . . . hmmm . . . usually, I meet with someone under the bleachers of the football field.  The football field is dark and spooky most of the times and it’s surrounded by fog.  The parade field is bright and sunny and there’s light gleaming from flags and instruments.  There’s also a gymnastics team on the parade field sometimes.  It’s all very grand.

Instead of going to the classroom area, I can go to glass hallways that lead to upper levels.  There’s often a chase in one of these and I’m helping others to escape danger here.  There’s a path on the ground floor that leads to the basement transition area.



There is an airfield that’s a collection of different places I’ve been, but not any one specifically.  In this airfield are the flying machines that are fighting off the end of the world that ends up at my house on Corwin Street.  At first, I drive around outside of barbed wire fences but I can’t get in unless I go through the battle.

Battlefield. I travel in WWI or WWII style gear over forested areas to a fence that leads to enemy territory.  There is usually someone shooting at us.  A small group of us make it while others die in the battles.

Enemy lines.  We get across enemy lines.  There’s a river canyon to get across.  Then we end up in French countryside trying to sneak past enemy lines.  There’s a cottage, which is our goal to reach.  Once there, something momentous happens.  Then we have to get back to our own lines.  This inevitably leads to the airfield.

Flying the plane.  I fly over the airfield and usually chase an SR71 Blackbird, or I am the Blackbird.  We’re at war and the enemy is shooting at the airfield.  At some point I have to land.  This eventually leads to the house on Corwin where the end of the world is fought off.



This is a stereotypical plantation with lots of rooms.  Usually an argument or meeting is held inside and it is necessary to find a hidden item.

Outside of the plantation is verdant southern forest with lots of old willows, moss, ponds, streams and humidity.  Plans are usually made with a group as to which way to go.  A hunt or escape is usually involved.

There is a path.  Usually another group is met along the path.  From there, we end up further into the wilderness.


A freeway stop.

The buildings are on a cul-de-sac off a freeway. 

One’s a fast food place.  I’m a manager there sometimes, or sometimes a team leader.  Usually, I have to catch someone stealing, or inspire a group of workers to accomplish something.

Another is a Denny’s type restaurant.  I go there to drink coffee and contemplate.  After that, I go to the kitchen or leave to the outside.

The kitchen.  This is the restaurant kitchen, but it also intersects with a couple of other areas.  Usually, I’m just passing through here like it’s a mystery novel.

Another place is a service station.  Usually my vehicle is broken down.  I get gas, or get it fixed, or leave it there.  I can leave to go back to the freeway or go off onto a lonely desert road.


The City

When you get deep into the city, it’s very bright.  It’s a combination of LA, San Francisco, London and a city from the future.  (Don’t ask, it’s a dream)  I remember entering this city on a Zeppelin.  I don’t know why. 

There is a west to east river cutting the center of the city.  It’s difficult to get across.  There are a couple of bridges, or you can get a Zeppelin, lol.

On the southwest side of the river is the point of San Francisco.  There’s a wharf into the bay.  It’s just above the rough seas and dangerous to cross.  There’s a small city area with a circular garden there.

There’s a British military base with a large park on the southeast side.  It has a garden area with a parking lot and guards that prevent anyone from passing the chain-link fence.  Whoever I’m with has a friend that lets us in anyway.  Inside, there are warehouses.  Dangerous materials are in the warehouses.  There’s always some sort of shootout too.


The flea market/state fair

My parents always took me to flea markets.  Oddly enough, this isn’t any of the ones they took me to.  There is an entrance where we have to pay to get in.

Sometimes, there’s not a lot of people.  It’s late in the afternoon and all the tables are on an asphalt parking lot.  People are tired and at least one person is shielding their eyes from the sun (odd observation)  They sit in cars, vans or trucks behind their tables.  I usually end up haggling with someone.  I usually look to see if there are any bargains on toy trains or cars.

The other version is very crowded and on dirt.  Everyone has covers over their tables and most have scarfs or sheets hanging from them.  There are lots of trees and tall plants.  The vehicles are all cleverly hidden.

The flea-market has a warehouse area with livestock that’s more like a county fair.  There are areas with antiques and other old rusty items, including one thin warehouse that carries worn tools.


The skyscraper!!!

This is a bit of a scary place.  It’s a double tower rising high above a bright city.  It has two banks of elevators, one with glass elevators, one with service elevators.  There is at least one single elevator that goes along the outside of the building.

It’s very windy on the roof of the building.  Scary windy.  Sometimes I won’t go onto the roof, other times I do.  Sometimes I’m alone, sometimes there’s someone there to challenge me to something.

Penthouse.  There is a very businesslike penthouse at the top.  Important decisions are made here.  I can leave by plane, leave by the roof, take one of the elevators, or take a secret tunnel.

The elevators.  Often, the elevators are broken, representing an obstacle.  Other times, the elevator I’m on doesn’t go to where I need it to.  The elevators are also transitions.  I can travel to different settings.

The skyscraper basement.  The basement has lots of pipes and secret paths that lead to other buildings and exits.  It connects with the transition basement.


The canyon/cliffs

There is a desert canyon with a river far down below.  There is a trail along the south cliff that leads to a cave.  Inside the cave are ruins.  The ruins are Egyptian style, but also have a roller coaster style mine cart system sort of like in Donkey Kong 3 for Super Nintendo.

This area is very dangerous.


That's about all I have the energy to write about.  I have no idea if any of that was interesting or not, but . . . well . . . there you go.

All my best,

John H. Carroll

Friday, August 16, 2013

Habits in my writing I have from playing D&D

D&D and Writing

I used to play PnP (Pen and Paper) D&D (Dungeons & Dragons) where a group of us would sit down with our books and miniatures and have adventures, roll a variety of dice and nom much snackage.  It was a lot of fun.  We spent just as much time chatting about our lives as we did actually playing the games.

Please don't let that be a dragon.

Now I'm a writer having adventures without a group, books, miniatures and dice, but still plenty nomming of snackage.  . . . It's sort of like a lonelier version of what I used to do I suppose.

I shall do karate to it

But there are habits we used to have in playing those games that I find myself including in my stories when I write.

What do you do?

"You enter a room.  In the middle is a golden idol sitting on a pedestal.  What do you do next?"

It's a question DM (Dungeon Masters) ask.  The DM describes the scenario, the room, the enemies, whatever.  It's the players' job to decide what they do from there.  (In this instance, you grab it, run from the boulder and reluctantly turn it over to the Nazis waiting at the entrance.)

As a writer, I do the same for my characters.  I describe the scenario and let them decide how they would react based on their personalities.  It's usually something I didn't expect and I find myself trying to come up with new ideas to counter their actions, just like with D&D players.

What do I do?  I charge of course!!!

Pick up your weapons!

Another thing I do is always make sure the characters pick up their weapons and supplies.  Often, in battle, someone will drop a weapon or pack so they can fight.  In a book, I suppose you assume the character just does it, but in D&D if you don't pick it up, you don't have the sword for the next battle!  It's part of the "What do you do next" thing.  The proper answer is, "I pick up my sword that the dire rat knocked out of my hand when it scored a critical hit."  Then I glare at the cruelly grinning DM and pop another Dorito into my mouth.

I know I dropped that dagger around here . . .

Who goes first, who goes last?

The habit that made me think to write this particular blog post is that I line up my characters' marching order.  This is a paragraph I just wrote:

Shahben led them up an animal trail through the trees.  Ceval stayed with him and it was clear the two had become fast friends.  Teluith walked behind Reben while Evien followed her.  Everyone else followed, with the most capable acting as rear guard.

I honestly don't know if I need to do that in the book, but it's vital in D&D.  A DM has to know where everyone is so that he can tell who gets to roll the first spot check to see the ogre cleverly hiding behind an aspen tree.

You can't seeeeeeee meeeeeeee.

I find myself always describing marching order in my books, but I don't think I've seen it in many other books.  Perhaps in Stephen Nowland's Aielund Saga.  But he's a long time D&D player like me.  I'm going to have to go back and see if his characters always pick up their weapons too.

I wonder how the reader views the marching order, or if they even notice.  I personally couldn't tell you in any of the books I've read, though I do remember getting confused at times as to the locations of characters in some books.  Hopefully it helps in my stories and doesn't act as a distraction to the reader instead.


I'm curious as to what readers have noticed in my, or anyone else's books, about these habits.  I'm also curious if other writers have other D&D habits they include in their books.

*Note:  All miniatures are Reaper miniatures painted by yours truly.

All my best,

John H. Carroll