Writer Interrupted: The next poetry book

It has been about a year since ‘The All or the Nothing’, my first book of poetry, was published as an ebook. It’s now available in print, as well.

I guess it’s time for the follow up. I’ve been working hard, compiling and editing, designing and laying out the book in Adobe Indesign and Photoshop, and it’s only a few weeks away from release. This will be a book release to start, with an ebook to follow.

It’s called ‘Poetry for the Sad, Lonely and Hopelesly Endangered‘, and it’s a collection of poems for readers in various states of mind: happy, sad, mildly infuriated, dogmatic, dramatic, fizzled, cranky, spanky, smiley, wiley, overwrought, overworked and dizzy.

If you like my poetry, you’ll like this book, because it’s…more of my poetry.

Out soon.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Wayward Daze (Gambling Daze, part 2). A poem.

I remember carrying my son
Two months old and sleeping
Into wayward pubs and clubs
In search of a wayward mother
Bewitched by poker machines
And the scent of an easy win.

I remember the humiliation
Of asking doormen and barmen
If they had seen her
Sitting zombie-like at machines
feeding her constancy
and poor self-esteem.

I remember her excuses
Which she chose to pass from memory
As easily as passing wind,
Each lie another flatulent thought
Already forgotten in the coverup.

I remember all my tears
and my son sleeping quietly
unaware of the storm
that surrounded him
as dreams of happy families
were sundered from within.

My first wife was a compulsive gambler. It was not a pleasant time in my life, and is not fondly remembered. But it is remembered, by me, at least.

Steve

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Comics: All-Time Personal Faves

I looooove comic books. I’ve been reading them since I was a kid, and in my currently bereft and almost moneyless state I don’t get as many opportunities to buy them as I used to.

A loooong time ago, I said I was going to talk about some of my favourite comic book stories. Sorry it took so long. Here they are, in no particular order.

Watchmen

Watchmen – arguably the greatest comic book story ever written, and often included in all-time best novel lists. In the 80’s, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons produced this seminal piece of adult literature that works on so many levels. If you never read any other comics, read this one. I have a first edition collected volume and a re-released hardcover, and bought the original issues when they came out. This comic book is the altar I pray at.

The Dark Knight Returns

The Dark Knight Returns – This comic sits in front of that altar. Frank Miller brought an older Batman out of retirement and made this one of the greatest and most influential comics ever created.

Batman: Year One

Batman: Year One – …and then Frank and David Mazzuchelli redefined the Dark Knight’s origin in a gritty tale that has inspired TV shows and comics everywhere. And made my altar very crowded.

Superman: Red Son

Superman: Red Son – Mark Millar made his mark on the Superman canon with this incredible Elseworlds story of a man of steel raised in Soviet Russia. The ending is one of the coolest ever.

Swamp Thing

Saga of the Swamp Thing – Alan Moore is my favourite writer. Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s 70’s Swamp Thing is my all-time fave character, but Moore’s take took it, and his career, into the stratosphere during the 80’s and brought on a flurry of astounding work, including the aforementioned Watchmen.

Green Lantern

Green Lantern – Geoff Johns is one of the most amazing creators in comics today. He has an understanding of the characters and the medium that raises the bar with every book he takes on. This is his ground-breaking run on titular character Hal Jordan.

Marvels

Marvels – Marvel’s superheroes and seminal founding events, seen through the eyes of conventional people, by Kurt Busiek and with art by the incredible Alex Ross. If you haven’t seen Mr Ross’s lifelike painted artworks, you don’t know what you’re missing. Awesome.

Justice League

JLA – Grant Morison has written some unbelievable comics, including this superb and influential run on the Justice League in the 90’s. Big moments. Big characters. Big stories. Big creativity.

Y the last man

Y: The Last Man – Brian K. Vaughn is a brilliant writer. This is a brilliant story. It also contains the saddest scene I’ve ever read in a comic. No contender.

Ex Machina

Ex Machina – Brian K. Vaughn (there’s that name again) puts the politics in superhero, with this amazing work with artist Tony Harris.

Sandman

Sandman – The work that made Neil Gaiman BIG. Yep, even before the novel writing. Eerily good. And Dave McKean does the best covers EVER. Hands down.

That’s not all of them, of course. The list goes on and on. But that’s enough, for now…

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Poker Machine Daze (Gambling Daze, part 1). A poem.

She played the pokies in her day,
her singular gaze unflinching
and intractably admiring.
The stars and bells, her friends;
a gentle, constant riot of affection
and affectation, pleading to stay
and coaxing her with opium overtures
of digitised ecstasy.

The hours flew by until the credit expired
and she was begging for more,
cashing nameless cheques
and selling recently acquired
electrical and white goods
(no questions asked)
in a whirlpool of hypocrisy.

The pokies called to her,
like sirens on a cold and callous sea,
the daughters of Achelous
pleading for her return,
tempting her with short-term solutions
and promises of fools’ good.

How could she resist?
Just one more spin of the wheels
and fabled misfortune awaited.
How many more lines would she cross,
how many more lies would she tell
to ensure the opulent beasts
remained her constant companions?

These friends were never-lasting,
because the all too-plentiful machines,
as sensual as they might seem,
gave far less love
than they received
and in the end
discarded her
for the next
easy
win.

My first wife was a compulsive gambler. It was not a pleasant time in my life, and is not fondly remembered. But it is remembered, by me, at least.

Steve

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Stealthy. A poem.

You sneak into my world

past locks, alarms, sigils, wards 

down corridors of fatalistic compromise

through rooms of idealistic circumspection

and find me waiting earnestly

wanting, more or less

what you want

no need to be so stealthy 

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Laidback DM: The Virtues of the Mini-Campaign

I like short role playing game (RPG) campaigns. That’s not to say I don’t like the occasional long-termer, but mini-campaigns (say, around 3-4 months) are my current preference.

For those not in the know, a campaign is a series of adventures linked by a common thread or goal—a bit like a season of a modern TV or cable show. Some RPG campaigns can last for years, representing long term investment in player character stories and plot development. Some campaigns might last only a few months, representing a tangible milestone completed—for example, a huge Orc Boss whose ongoing machinations to take over the valley the heroes call home is finally brought to his knees. It’s these shorter campaigns I’m talking about.

Laidback DM - stevestillstanding.com
Short or Long Campaign? Either way, I’m ready!

I enjoy long campaigns, however I don’t like them going any longer than a year. This is due to time restraints, but also because any longer can sometimes lead to burnout—mine, specifically. I found this the case playing Tomb of Annihilation with one of my groups. All up it took about nine months to play, and I was glad when it finished. We stuck to mini-campaigns after that (DM’ing Curse of Strahd was a different matter—that’s one I would have enjoyed even if we played for longer than the seven months it took).

Long campaigns are great because players see their characters, the game world and the story they are contributing to, evolve like a living thing. But mini-campaigns have many attractions, too:

1. Generally less preparation is required

2. The goal is tighter and more specific, so players don’t lose focus on what they’re trying to achieve

3. It’s easier for players and DMs with busy lives to commit to a shorter campaign

4. Mini-campaigns don’t tend to drag because they have a short end date, so there’s less chance of DM and/or player fatigue

5. The goal can easily lead into another mini-campaign—remember that Orc Boss? Turns out he had an even bigger boss manipulating him behind the scenes…

So give some thought to the mini-campaign. You can still have a long endgame goal, but break it into smaller, more manageable chunks. It could save you a few headaches.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Hurricane Heart. A poem.

Transfixed by you,
statuesque in the hurricane,
riding tempestuous
slipstream currents—
a goddess of hail
and happenstance.

You’re a lightning rod,
attracting joules
and fools like me,
incontrovertibly
shattering stratospheric records
like a pheromone cyclone.

After your storm has passed,
and the sun breaks
the clotted clouds,
I’m the only windswept survivor:
shaken, stirred, shocked,
and praying for yet more rain,

to turn this aching, burnished desert
into fields of dew-swept gold.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Widows. A movie review.

Widows is a remake of a British TV series from some years ago, based on the book by Lynda la Plante. It’s stylishly directed, well written, brilliantly acted, but leaves you feeling somewhat flat by the end as a consequence of its dark tone and focus.

Widows is a heist movie featuring moments of great melancholy (Viola Davis’s character Veronica is mourning the loss of her son and her husband; the other widows are grieving their respective partners), incredible selfishness and greed (the local gang, alderman and pastor are corrupt and criminal) and stark contrasts (rich vs. poor, black vs. white). It doesn’t pull its punches.

Veronica’s husband, Harry (Liam Neeson), is a career criminal who is killed, along with his crew, after robbing a local Chicago gang of $2million. The gang leader (Brian Tyree Henry) and local alderman-to-be (Colin Farrell) are at loggerheads as they are both running for election and there’s more than a little corruption behind the scenes. The gang leader knows Harry stole the money and wants Veronica to pay it back. Veronica uses Harry’s notes to plan a heist, but needs the widows of Harry’s crew to help her.

The script is excellent, with enough twists to keep you hooked; the direction by Steve McQueen is superbly fluid; the acting is great – Viola Davis steals every scene she’s in, of course, although she’s becoming somewhat stereotyped as the ‘hard nosed b$&@$ with a soft side’.

It’s not perfect: there are a few too many coincidences holding the plot together; having so many characters sometimes detracts from the titular widows’ stories, downplayed in favour of the political and gangland dramas; the widows’ individual arcs seem a bit rushed, a consequence of editing to reduce running time, I suspect; overall, most of the characters are largely unsympathetic and don’t really grow as people by the end of the movie. This doesn’t make for a bad film, more a slightly unsatisfying one. I think it might have worked better as a mini-series.

There are few uplifting moments in this film – it mirrors the inherent darkness of modern society, at times dragging on you like an anchor. By the end you’re almost glad it’s over, but you’re still impressed by the quality of the journey.

Widows is a well-made, well-acted drama that deserves your time. Just don’t expect it to be a wholly pleasant one.

Rating: B

Upstart Photographer – The Book

I recently found a house in the mountains, burnt out and abandoned. Resting on a window pane, its tenuous pages teased by the wind, was a partially charred book. The page settled in the breeze. As I took a photo I noticed how tragically ironic the words were.

I had to write a poem about it, of course.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

The Book. A poem (Abandoned, part 1)

Resting now, tales upended,
curled from flames at war,
your words not quite as meaningless
as others may have thought.
Each blackened leaf an anecdote
of irony, for naught.
Naked walls surround you;
a Dali canvas, all distraught.

You remain the lost reminder
of all the lonely souls before,
who paced this frame and residence
before the firestorm burned it raw.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Laidback DM: Avoiding The TPK

As DMs, we’ve all done it at some time or other: we’ve killed the entire party and drained the fun out of the D&D session. Sometimes it’s unintentional, sometimes it’s mean spirited, sometimes it’s to punish players for being complete d$&@s.

But no matter how you look at it, the Total Party Kill (TPK) is a bummer for your campaign. No one wants to go out that way, unless it just happens to be the final battle of the campaign and a TPK means the big bad gets it as well.

Most players get attached to their characters. Having them all die at once can lead to losses from your gaming group, or players giving up playing the game altogether (a bit extreme, but it does happen).

Total Party Kill
Odds are, they’re not getting out of this one alive.

Here’s some ways to avoid the TPK:

1.Have a contingency prepared – perhaps the PCs were all knocked unconscious and saved as they proved useful to the villain’s plan. They awaken chained up and breaking rocks. Now you have a cool prison escape scenario instead of multiple funerals and habitual moaning and mourning.

2.Fluff your dice – I’m not a fan of this option, but you’re the DM. Just don’t make it too obvious.

3.The Deus Ex Machina – something amazing happens that saves the party: A company of Dwarven Commandos intervenes; the ground cracks open, swallowing the bad guy before he can deliver the coup de grace; an even bigger bad guy appears and fights the villains, giving the party time to escape. Just make sure the rescuer/event is relevant and part of the ongoing story, not something that just happened “because” (even if it did).

4.The alternate universe/another plane save – the PCs are dead, but now they find themselves in the afterlife or a screwed up version of their world (come on, you always wanted to run one of those Star Trek Mirror Universe episodes, didn’t you?). Now, they just have to find their way back home. A quest to return to life!

5.It was all a dream – This is another one of those options I don’t like much, but it could work if used the right way and if it makes for a better story. Perhaps the real big bad is a dream deity manipulating things behind the scenes and wants the players to suffer both mentally as well as physically to harvest their energy on the way to achieving ultimate power?

In the end, if the PCs are just being stupid, then maybe they need to die to teach them a lesson. As always, it’s up to you, the DM, to decide. Just remember this: killing everyone almost always kills the fun.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Old Friend. A poem.

I’m spiralling again:
an anxious emptiness,
a long bitter refrain,
that repeats over

and over
and over
and over
and over

in my angry, lonely brain.

Old friend,
you’ve never let me go,
though you always
let me down/
bring me down:
the crown upon my brow
that weighs so heavily
on my doubts.

I’ve accepted you
and held you tight;
a reliable lover
who’s always wrong
and always right.
I wallow with you each time
until I’m bereft and maimed,
every day
and every night
until I let you go again.

Until you return to me
now and then,

Old friend.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Laidback Movie Reviews: ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ and ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

* Claire Foy is great in everything (witness her dramatic turns in First Man and The Crown), including this. A shame the script leaves her little to work with.
* Abundant cliches and criminally poor use of the Millenium series’ usually prominent supporting characters makes this movie more pedestrian than it should have been. If I have to see another movie with an all powerful device that controls all nuclear missiles (or alternatively, some other ridiculous deus ex machina device, like something that controls all of the internet or every cappuccino machine in the world), I’ll scream.
* There are a few good action sequences—the “sniping through walls” scene was tense and well done.
* The trailer gave away the main villain, something I really hate. The “family member assumed long dead is the bad guy” cliche is really overused. Any attempt to explore the more subtle and hard hitting character issues are quickly pushed aside to drive forward the average plot.

Rating: C-

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

* J K Rowling demonstrates she’s a wonderful author who’s still learning how to write screenplays. Better pacing, editing and less exposition would be nice; movies are a different medium to books and need to engage the audience in other ways. This film is more world building and set up for the rest of the series, rather than a movie in itself.
* Nice to see Hogwarts again.
* Great special effects and action set pieces. Some welcome character development for Newt and the supporting characters.
* Paradoxically, I enjoyed this one more than the first Fantastic Beasts movie. It makes me want to see the next in the series, so I guess it succeeded in what it set out to do.

Rating: C+

Laidback DM: Free Map – Duergar Stronghold

Time for a free map! I love drawing maps for D&D adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give them away any chance I get.

This week: Duergar Stronghold

Down into the Underdark we go, to a Duergar Stronghold protecting the only bridge connecting north and south for 300 miles!

What are the mysterious stone-carven columns over the bottomless chasm’s north side, and why do strange lights flicker and move amongst them, barely perceived out of the corner of one’s eye? Any who linger amongst the columns are never heard from again…

The Drow Outpost on the north side supplies local Duergar addicts with Faerie Dust, the latest magical hallucinogenic drug. What’s their true purpose here?  

And what is the mysterious mist that rises from the Stronghold’s streets, bringing madness in its wake? 

Duergar Stronghold - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding copy

Above: Just right click and save.

This map is free to use for non-commercial purposes, as long as you acknowledge me and my website stevestillstanding.com. If you want to use it commercially, please send me an email and we can talk terms.

Happy Gaming!

Steve

P.S. I’m writing a book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Avoidance. A poem.

I avoid you when I see you, now.
Not ships passing in the night
but rather garbage scows,
no more trashy encounters or the like.

No potential head-ons or man overboard,
now endlesss drunken shanties to help me smile
While in my mind I sing long of discord,
blue notes to accompany my alibi.

And all the while
trying to forget I knew you.

A quick two step and I’m a private dancer,
skirting the alleyway to miss your eyes.
Ultimately, I’ll hold myself together
as I always have, or so I’d like.

The weight of my regret—two tonnes—
It pulls me down when you’re around.
And so, under the carpet, swept,
the bitter thoughts and all I’ve left.

I’m trying to forget I knew you.

And that’s been unsuccessful, too.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Half-Life/Half-Light. poem.

Of this lingering

half-life,

only the iceberg tip exposed.

Beware what lies beneath:
cut glass, mirrored edges
and radical toxicity.

Splinters and elements
better left submerged;
its palpitating heart,
decaying in the

half-light.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Symbaroum – a tabletop fantasy RPG that reeks of deep darkness, blighted evil and drawn out death. Fun!

One of my favourite Tabletop Role Playing Games, ever! Here’s a post many may have missed when I posted it back in early 2017. I must be feeling nostalgic 🙂

Steve Still Standing

(“You and your crazy role playing games,” says Alpha Girl surveying the books, sheets and dice on the kitchen table. “You’ve even got Beta Max involved.”

“It’s all good fun,” says Beta Max, rolling a handful of dice and cheering at the result. “Another dead goblin, thank you very much.” He sits back, hands behind his head, looking smug. “Any time soon, those magical math powers will kick in.* ”

“You know, you could play if you want,” I say.

“Would I be able to kill you?” says Alpha Girl.

“I guess so-”

“I’m in. Tell me what I have to do.”)

I like role playing games (RPGs). I can’t help it. There’s something about giving up mundane reality to become a fearless knight fighting evil monsters in fantastic and mysterious lands. Yeah, it’s nerdy, but that’s okay. It helps to relax my overwrought brain. It also enables me to…

View original post 600 more words

Laidback DM: D&D 5e Rules Summaries

Hi All!

I’ve been DM’ing and playing D&D 5e since the new version premiered (and AD&D – or 1e – previously), and like many people I occasionally forget rules. So, I created a few placemats your players can use as reminders.

Starter Placemat – Laidback DM – stevestillstanding (just click on this link)

  • This one is for beginners – those who have never played the game before – it has pictures of the various polyhedral dice on it as well as the rules summary.   

Rules Summary Placemat – Laidback DM – stevestillstanding (just click on this link)

  • This one is for more experienced players – those who just need a reminder about the rules every now and then – and doesn’t have the dice on it.

They look lovely when they’re printed and laminated (I’m a bit of a laminating junkie).

Free to use and enjoy!

Cheers

Steve 🙂

For more Laidback DM posts, including free maps, CLICK HERE! 

Upstart Photographer: Wreck

Photo, Poem – mix and match. Hopefully match.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Car wreck

Wreck. A poem.
Like some Greek tragedy
played out upon a silver screen,
the bullies and the demons
had their way with you, you see.
Left you naked and abused,
charred and anaesthetised,
just a step away from paradise
and a world away from prying eyes.
Another roadside nightmare
come to life; without life
your struggle epitomised
in every passing headlight.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Absent. A poem.

You who remain absent
Don’t celebrate your hypocrisy
Sliding on a sheen of contrariness
Recognise the source of their upheaval
You think time will make a fool of all
But it seems your veneer is wearing thin
And justice awaits your feeble excuses
To grasp what lies within

This poem is for all the abusers who think they got away with what they did. Justice comes to all.

Steve

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Save the Poet!

via Save the Poet!

Like my poetry? For poems you haven’t seen before, try The All or the Nothing, my first book. It’s available now, in print and e-book formats.

Click on the link above to find out how to get your copy, and help save this poor poet from extinction.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Discontentment. A poem.

Too plain, too pretty
Too full, too empty.
Too big, too small.
Too short, too tall.
Too rich, too poor.
Too fine, too sore.

A constant interchange of
histrionic and catatonic,
a test and trial of long-held resentment.
Find a balance and make your point
before you exceed your quota
of angst-filled discontentment.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Anvil. Part 20.

The Anvil stares down at Johnston, who unflinchingly returns the look. “You have a problem?” says Johnston.

“Why am I not with Violet?” says the Anvil.

“You’re too close to her. Might impede your judgement in combat.” Johnston raises his flechette carbine. “Now you better back off, friend. I like my personal space.”

Olsin steps between the two. “He’s fine, sugar—aren’t you?” She raises an eyebrow at the Anvil, who nods and backs away.

Johnston frowns. “You better keep the synthetic in line, Olsin.” He walks over to where Sarain leans against the corridor wall. Glancing back at the ex-Triad guard: “And Lady Chao is still keen to have a chat with you when this is all over.”

Olsin tries hard not to, but swallows anyway. “That’s a conversation I so look forward to,” she says under her breath. She moves over to where the Anvil stands, gazing out a transteel port at the clusters of ships surrounding the station. The glowglobe lights above are still red, giving the corridor and its occupants a crimson hue. Distant, muffled sounds of shots and explosions are background white noise—Bester’s mercenaries are advancing into the station from the end docks.

“You okay, sugar?” Olsin says, before lowering her voice. “Those memjets kicked in yet?”

The Anvil glances down at her, shakes its head, then eyes Johnston and Sarain standing opposite them, speaking in hushed tones with each other.

Johnston looks at the Anvil. “That one’s going to be trouble,” he says. Sarain looks and nods. She pats her arm-mounted EMP cannon, her glowing neural fibre hair highlighting the barrel. “Don’t worry, boss—first sign of a problem and I take him out,” she says.

* * *

Jayle and Kanji lead Chun, Jimmy and Violet through the stark scarlet-illumined corridors of Flotsam station. Kanji’s ruby visual receptors highlight her frown, framed by her burgeoning dreadlocks. “The boss is upset with me again, isn’t he?” she says. “He didn’t even mention I was on your team.”

Jayle rolls her eyes. “I’ll never understand why you need his approval so much, Kanji.” She winks at the big African woman. “Maybe you’ve got the hots for him.”

Kanji starts and almost blushes. “He’s a fine-looking black man,” she says. “But I don’t mix business and pleasure.”

“Must be daddy issues, then.” Jayle ribs the big woman, laughs and winks. Kanji grimaces and giggles, her girlish titter at odds with her hulking presence and the barbed metal appendage that masquerades for a right arm.

Granny Chun holds one of Violet’s hands, the obligatory teddy bear glued to the little girl’s other. “You okay, sweetie?” says Chun. Violet looks up and nods, sucking her thumb. Chun smiles.

Big Jimmy moves up beside them, his fingers hovering reflexively over the auto-pistol in his leg holster. He looks up at Chun and whispers. “I assume you have a plan to get us out of this?”

Chun raises an eyebrow and whispers back. “Of course, what would that be? We’re on a Triad-owned space station about to be assaulted by the private army of richest man in the solar system, all in an effort to get back his little girl. What sort of plan did you expect me to come up with?”

Jimmy scowls. “Well, you always seem to know what you’re doing.”

Chun shrugs. “Of course, this time I’m just going with the flow. Let’s see where Lady Chao’s plan gets us.”

“As long as it doesn’t get us dead.”

* * *

Lu Chi has been an electrician on Flotsam for five years. It’s not a bad life, repairing faulty conduits and replacing broken glowglobes. The pay’s reasonable, the hours great. His wife and son share quarters with him (it’s not often that’s allowed on small stations); a quiet, unassuming life. At least, it was. The attack on the station threw him a curve ball. As soon as this sensor is replaced, I’ll get Lee and Xi and we’ll find an escape pod, Lu thinks. Get out of this place and never look back.

The red lights dim a moment. Lu glances up, curious, then returns to his work. There’s a strange metallic tapping sound on the floor behind him. He turns. The raptor tilts its head, a long strand of saliva dripping from its razor-sharp jaws as its silvery artificial eyes scan the technician. Lu drops his soldering iron and screams.

* * *

Shi Cho turns away. It isn’t often that he’s turned off by violence, but he never imagined the ferocity of the creatures. Bester smiles as he observes. “The perfect predators,” he says. “They didn’t deserve to stay extinct, so I brought them back—improved, of course.” A moment more and it’s over, the last of the technician consumed by the three beasts. Blood trails and spatter covered the surrounding walls.

Bester brings up a hologram display above his watch face: a three-dimensional schematic view of the Flotsam; a red dot indicator, about 500 metres away.

“You can track her?” says Shi-Cho.

“Only at short range,” says Bester. He whistles for his pets and the raptors scramble to his side. “Listen up, my beauties. You can kill anything you like, but not Violet.” The raptors nod, recognising his command syntax and pre-programmed vis-cues. “Now let’s see if we can find my daughter.”

* * *

The Anvil grabs its head, collapses to the floor. Johnston raises his pistol, steadying it with his other hand. “Olsin! What’s the matter with him?”

Olsin crouches beside the armature. “He’s taken memjets. He’s accessing lost memories.”

Johnston lowers his sidearm. “Just great. How long will he be out for?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, sugar.”

Sarain eyes the unconscious form on the floor. “And just what memories would those be?”

* * *

A rush of images, scents and sounds, blurred and wavering in and out, topped with strange popping sounds, as if from an antiquated speaker. The Anvil sees a man, the same its seen before, on the roof garden of Bester’s building. He’s dressed in a suit, with an ear piece. A tall, good looking fellow, stern faced and lean. A beautiful woman is talking to him, but the Anvil is too far away to hear.

The scene comes into focus, and the Anvil pushes his consciousness forward. The woman is Angelique Bester. The man is Dominic Casheur, one of Bester’s many security agents.

“I want to save Violet from him”, she says. “You’re the only one I trust to help me, Dominic.” Her hand on his face, a gesture of intimacy and closeness. “I have access to funds and a doctor. I’ll fit you out in one of the newest armatures. You’ll be Violet’s protector. I’ve hidden her away in the waveruins, but it’s only a matter of time before Bester tracks her down. You need to get her to the Loop. Promise me you’ll do it.”

They kiss, long and lovingly. Casheur says nothing, just nods.

The images spiral away and the light hits the Anvil’s eyes like a sledgehammer.

* * *

Olsin gasps as the armature’s eyes flick open. “Are you okay, sugar? You had me worried.”

The Anvil rises, rubbing his head. “Call me Dominic,” he says.

“You know who you are?”

“I know the who and the how. But not why I was brainwashed into thinking I was Violet’s mother.”

Johnston hovers over them. “What kind of messed up crap are you talking about?” he says.

The Anvil rises to his feet. “I think someone’s playing me. I just don’t know who, yet.” He turns to Johnston. “More than likely they’re playing you as well.”

* * *

Lady Koga’s interceptor hovers several hundred kilometres away from Flotsam, scanning and observing the surrounding mercenary flotilla and the massive Hyperion hanging over all. Her craft has the latest black horizon dead space tech, allowing it to be undetectable to the cruiser at this distance. She’s still cautious about getting too close, though—Bester is renowned for all sorts of off-the-grid experimental technology. The man is a scientific genius, after all.

Koga’s readouts indicate Bester is actually aboard the tiny cylindrical station, courtesy of a high-powered and undetectable nano-tracker the Triad sneaks into all their business associates. She frowns and runs her hand over her bald pate.

The spherical and limbless black robot strapped into the acceleration couch next to her rotates its single green eye to her. “Mission impact?”

“Let’s wait and see how this develops,” says Koga. “Patience is a virtue, and some lessons take time to teach.”

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here.

What is ANVIL?

ANVIL is a deliberately unplanned, multi-part short story I’m creating week-by-week to challenge myself as a writer (I’ve done this before with The Sale – check it out by clicking here). My intention is to write an episode as often as possible, generally (but not always) ending with a cliff hanger, then work out how to solve the dilemma and continue the story. I have no idea how the story will progress, no idea what it’s about until I get there.

Only you can tell me if it’s successful or not. I hope you enjoy my continuing experiment.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Winding Down Yet Winding On

I’ve been blogging every day for a little over one and a half years. I’m never short of material and I’m not one of those writers who suffer from writer’s block.

No, this is not a ‘brag’ blog. This is my way of saying it’s time to wind back so I can focus more on the other important things in my life.

When I started blogging, my main purpose was to use the web as a place to exercise my creative muscles, to force myself to write everyday. More importantly, it was cathartic, enabling me to address my various inner demons and hang ups—depression, anxiety, unrequited love, anger, pain, heartbreak—the whole box of dice.

Over time I’ve explored many of my other interests on this blog: role playing games, music, photography, short stories, movies, poetry. In fact, my first published poem was written and posted on this blog back in March 2017, what seems like a lifetime ago.

But life catches up to everyone, and the inevitability of uni, work, relationships, socialising (wow, hard to believe there was a time when I never thought I’d ever leave the house) and writing, mean something has to go. Or at least, reduce.

So, I’ll only be posting once every two days in future. That might not seem like much of a change, but it’s a big thing for me. For some of you it will be a relief—less emails from WordPress, for one.

Thanks for continuing to support me, and I hope to catch up with many of you in comments sections and future posts.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

The All or the Nothing

For my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Laidback DM – Free Map! Dungeon A La Carte

Time for a free map! I love drawing maps for D&D adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give them away any chance I get.

This week: Dungeon A La Carte

A simple dungeon map I drew with a 1st-level party in mind. Some easy monsters, a few traps: the north-east room fills with water while the PCs solve the puzzle; the south-east room has two teleporting pools that shift stuff back and forth while gargoyle heads spew poisonous gas; the central chamber is a floor tile puzzle that, when solved, reveals the secret door behind the statue (an easier way to the main treasure room); several trapped and impossibly locked doors; pit traps; triggered floors; undead guardians. Phew!

Dungeon A La Carte - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding copy

Above: Just right click and save.

This map is free to use for non-commercial purposes, as long as you acknowledge me and my website stevestillstanding.com. If you want to use it commercially, please send me an email and we can talk terms.

Happy Gaming!

Steve

P.S. I’m writing a 52-page book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Fell For You. A poem.

I don’t know why I fell for this—
it was obvious you were oblivious,
and my dreams were cloaked
in pointlessness.

I don’t know why you caught my eye,
why I invested all my precious time
creating a melodious portfolio,
that you alone inspired.

Who did I want you to be
when you looked on me so distantly,
you were just a narcissistic,
attention-seeking tragedy.

You didn’t realise the truth:
we were meant to be as one, you see,
and be like living poetry.

But, then again, you never knew.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Bohemian Rhapsody. A movie review.

Rami Malek of Mr Robot fame playing Freddy Mercury? Lots of Queen hits with amazing sound? Bring it on!

I’m a Queen fan from way back. I have all their albums, and Brian May continues to be my all-time favourite rock guitarist. So as soon as I heard word Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic of Freddy and the band, was being filmed I was as good as in a seat. They had my money, no matter what.

Now I’ve seen it I can honestly say I enjoyed it. However…

I guess the biggest letdowns were the missed opportunities to see not only some of the major issues the band faced early in its career (the stoush with their first manager, for instance), the other band members getting short shrift in terms of screen time, and Freddy’s character seeming a little two dimensional, given the amount of story devoted to him. Some of the scenes dragged, especially the ones with Freddy and Mary. But a movie can only be so long, and for the benefit of story a few things needed to be cut, a few liberties taken. Rami Malek makes up for it with a wonderful performance as Freddy, capturing the essence of the man, if not always the presence.

Bohemian Rhapsody is an enjoyable ride, even if it’s not destined to be the best Queen movie ever made. I’m sure that’s yet to come.

Rating: B-

Upstart Photographer: Flowers

Photo. Poem. Yep, it’s happening.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Flowers. A poem.

Delicate, handled by one
as ham-fisted and indelicate as I
Effulgent petals and tapered stems
A majesty denied but gained again
The vase a minor price to pay
For a life ensconced in beauty
(As short-lived as it may be)

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Reach. A poem.

I reach
And ellipses of time
and motion
Quixotic
Remote-controlled emotion
The loving
contentment
of the
discontented
Repeated over and over
Masticated and
Manipulated
in my head
Like daffodil moments
and chloroformed thoughts
Venting in subspace
A dream prison
Of complexity
and indecision
From finish to start
and ending with
a question:
Where
Are
You
And
Why
Are
We
Apart?

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.
Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Laidback DM – Free Map! The City State of Ranisvlad

Time for a free map! I love drawing maps for D&D adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give them away any chance I get.

This week: Ranisvlad, City State of Thieves

Anything goes in Ranisvlad, a murky, muddy and depraved city state in the outlands, ruled by Ranislov, so-called Lord of Thieves. Humans, humanoids and otherworldly creatures mingle and mix, fight and trade. Dangerous job offers and shady deals can be found all along Skull and Dagger Way. Disputes are settled in the Lord’s Arena, the only real justice in town. In Ranisvlad, you can find fame, fortune or a quick death, if you choose.

Beware the dark secrets of Barislev Tower, where vampires and wizards collude to raise the Demon King of Bats. Lone travellers are often waylaid by cannibal brigands on the Bridge of Thieves. The necropolis of Death’s Throne is the repository for Ranisvlad’s dead, who rise from their graves at night to claw at the cemetery gates…

Ranisvlad City State of Thieves - Laidback DM - stevestillstandingAbove: Just right click and save.

This map is free to use for non-commercial purposes, as long as you acknowledge me and my website stevestillstanding.com. If you want to use it commercially, please send me an email and we can talk terms.

Happy Gaming!

Steve 😊

P.S. I’m writing a 52-page book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

The Pantomime. A poem.

The tears keep me awake at

night;

they burn my eyes and ducts,
sodden flames licking,
smoke broiling,
consuming the room of my

head

until I’m fit to choke
on all the pointless

condescension,

spluttering, unkempt,
raw and misbegotten.

Soaked in a pantomime
of longing and rejection
until the show is

over.

Those tears remain,
salty dew trails
that scar my cheeks,
a tattooed reminder that

never

leaves my side.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Rehasher. A poem.

Don’t you tire of the same old thing?
A less-than-subtle rehashing,
a troublesome re-treading,
a more meagre repetition
of what’s come and gone before.

Finally time to
Uproot all those
Common thoughts and
Kill them dead.

Your groove has become a rut
that gets deeper every
overwrought time.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Beginnings and Endings

Life should not be about hellos and goodbyes.
It should be the sum of everything in between.
Stephen Thompson

My life is punctuated with hellos and goodbyes. And like most tragedies, they’re played out upon a stage, with an audience looking on—sometimes cheering, sometimes gloating.

I wish things could be simpler, but that’s not what my life was meant to be. I’m hamstrung by the beginnings and the endings, rather than enjoying what lies in between.

I’m at a new beginning, again. A fresh start? I live in hope.

Cheers

Steve

Mad Method. A poem.

The method in my madness,
is often overrated.
But then again my madness
is often overstated.
Eternal slings and arrows
do permeate my mind,
with each outrageous fortune
lying not too far behind.

But the madness in my method
and the madness in my mind
is never just inflated,
understated or unkind.
The method in my madness
is the way that sees me through
the anger, pain, mind suicide
every thought outlined in blue.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

Laidback DM: Free Map – Demonic Prison

Time for a free map! I love drawing maps for D&D adventures. I have far too many, though, so I give them away any chance I get.

This week: Demonic Prison

Ever wondered where evil wizards keep their raised demons? How about a special-built magical prison in the side of a cliff? Heck, why not? Have fun using this baby!

Demonic Prison - Laidback DM - stevestillstanding

Above: Just right click and save.

This map is free to use for non-commercial purposes, as long as you acknowledge me and my website stevestillstanding.com. If you want to use it commercially, please send me an email and we can talk terms.

Happy Gaming!

Steve 😊

P.S. I’m writing a 52-page book of dungeon maps, adventures, tables and tips! Coming soon!

For more Laidback DM posts, click here.

Why do we blog?

Why do we blog?

Some say it’s cathartic. Some say it encourages and develops us as writers. A creative outlet. Some say we do it for fun. To get in touch with like-minded souls. Some say they just need to vent—anger, tears, love and fears. Some say they want to inspire. To express their opinions. And some say their blog is only for them, that they don’t care what others think.

All of these things are true. But there’s another, underlying truth: we blog because we want validation. We want people to acknowledge our efforts. We want people to like us and our work. Let’s not fool ourselves. If we didn’t we would write private journals, rather than sharing everything publicly.

The blog is an amazing tool. We create, and in creating reach out to others, raise spirits, inspire and influence.

I’m so happy I started blogging. Without it I wouldn’t be who I am today. Maybe you wouldn’t be, either.

So, why do you blog?

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Hurt (happy when I see you). A poem.

I hurt when I see you,
a mad combination of anger and pride.
Selfish and shallow,
Tear-filled and callow.
So glad you’re doing well;
I know you wallowed for awhile,
as indeterminate as I.
Now, you’re bouncing,
a supercharged rubber ball,
denying the laws of physics.

I’m happy when I see you,
but know I see right through you.
Liquid transparency in our eyes,
like life and death combined.
Memories fade but the rearview
ghosts will always stay the same.
I’m glad you made your way
and left me wandering
in front of headlights,
a deer awaiting the next
bull bar and asphalt kiss.

I hurt, but I’m happy when I see you.

Maybe you do, too.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

First Man. A movie review.

First Man is, hands down, the best movie I have seen in the last five years. It’s in my top 10 movies of all time. It’s that good.

First Man is the story of America’s race to get a man on the moon before the Soviets in the 1960’s. But more than that, it’s the very personal story of astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) coming to terms with the loss of his daughter, and his wife (Claire Foy) facing her husband’s emotional distance and the prospect of losing him at any moment.

Armstrong is isolated and driven, and First Man brings this home in dramatically awkward fashion—he interacts with friends, workmates and family, and never connects in any real way. He’s methodical and smart, his emotionless level-headedness ideal for missions. Gosling gives a suitably understated performance, with Foy matching him in intensity.

Director Damien Chazelle has created a work of filmic art. The opening flight scene and those in space are incredibly harrowing. The ancient tech and DIY feel of the rockets makes you wonder how the astronauts got anywhere—it’s not surprising there were so many fatalities. The use of handheld video camera gives the movie a documentary feel, with many scenes filmed in intense close up, emphasising the intimacy and tension.

First Man is not for those who thought Venom was a smart film. It’s intense, painful, gripping, intelligent and moving. It’s everything good movies should be, and it needs to be seen on the big screen.

Rating: A+

Unforgiven. A poem.

Have I forgotten who I am?

Not when every turgid thought
drags the ocean bottom,
the silt clouding my mind
with all the pain I wrought.

Not when my perpetual aching heart
is torn in two with every memory
of every rancid moment
from dusk to red-eyed start.

Not when every apology
is a litany recited over,
every prayer a reminder
of wasteland perpetuity.

No, I won’t forget myself,
and I won’t forgive myself,
until you tell me so
and release me from this hell.

The All or the Nothing

For more of my poetry, check out The All or the Nothing, my first book, available at most online book sellers in print or e-book formats.

Click here to find out how to get your copy.

Want to support Steve with a donation? Click on the donate link at the bottom of this page. Thanks!

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