On Writing: Habitica–Gamify your Life!

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Who knew that creating a productivity tool that is essentially a video game would be so effective? Habitica (formerly HabitRPG) helps you establish good habits and eradicate bad ones by giving you in-game rewards for completing real life tasks.

My first experience with a game-based productivity tool was Life RPG, suggested by my teenage son since he’s really into video games. I tried it, and initially found it somewhat helpful–although I was frustrated by the lack of customer support. When I had issues, I tried contacting the developers through the app store and twitter to no avail. Their twitter account hasn’t been updated since 2014, and while their reviews in the Android app store were overwhelmingly favorable, I could never get them to respond when I had a question.  Customer service and response times are important to me, since I am not tech savvy.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have only used Habitica during the current week. However, in that time I’ve already had more positive feedback and interaction through the site than I ever did using Life RPG. I think part of the reason is Habitica’s strong open-source community. There is a Tavern that can be visited via the app or site, where Habiticians can hang out casually or ask general questions. People who use Habitica are encouraged to be helpful to others, positivity is promoted, and everyone (as far as I have seen) is incredibly polite and considerate.

Habitica has a webpage online that you can log into each day to check off or add tasks, as well as an app for your cell phone or tablet device. I mainly use the app, but I try to check into the website at least once a day since I find typing on the laptop easier.

The first thing you do as a new user is create an avatar, with certain free options such as hair color or body type. As you complete your tasks, you gain health, experience, gold, and other rewards that let you buy things for your avatar. As you progress in the game, you gain levels and start to acquire pets that may become mounts in the proper circumstances, as well as other things–such as food for your stable animals, potions to regain health, armor, etc. There are also Guilds and Challenges for social opportunities as well as chances to gain extra rewards such as gems.

After you create your avatar you set up your real world tasks: Habits, Dailies, and To-Dos.  Habits should be things you would like to do every day (or every week, month, etc). Dailies are things that you should do every day (month, etc), and To-Dos are things that may (or may not) have a set-time limit. You gain rewards for everything you accomplish, but you lose points only if you miss your Dailies. In addition to the virtual game rewards offered, you may also assign yourself real life rewards, such as “Watching a movie” or “Eating a cookie” that may cost x-amount of gold. There are also other features that allow you to join parties and partner with other people, but you share the rewards or punishments when you do so.

An example of a Habit would be Stretching. I don’t remember to do my stretches every day, so this gives me extra points when I remember. A Daily would be Eat Lunch, since I often forget to eat, even after preparing lunch for my son. A To-Do would be Fix the Banister; I used the option to set a due time (end of this month) since I’ve put off this simple chore for several months. I have also set myself additional real life rewards, such as watching a movie for 25 gold coins.

The Guilds offer users a way to interact with other Habiticians that share similar interests. Guilds often offer Challenges to members, which promote Guild interests. For example, there are multiple writing Guilds that offer Challenges with set editing and publishing goals.

While it may not seem to tie-in to writing as a craft, using a productivity tool like Habitica can obviously help you establish a writing routine that increases your output. My life has become progressively more hectic over the past several weeks, but in the past week I’ve accomplished more of my writing goals than I have all month. I’ve reestablished a more productive daily routine, and I actually look forward to greater rewards for tasks I would otherwise put off.

If you tend to procrastinate or get overwhelmed with daily tasks, try Habitica. Signing up costs nothing but a little of your time, and the investment more than pays for itself.

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Twisted Tales 2016: Flash Fiction with a Twist!

Twisted Tales 2016 Cover

I know it’s a bit late, but the publication of Raging Aardvark‘s flash anthology is finally here! Please visit FaceBook for the Launch Party if you’d like to congratulate the authors, and I’m including some helpful links below for purchasing the book. I’m very happy to say my flash story, Mirror, appears in this anthology!

https://www.createspace.com/6652118 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0994525206

If you’d like a paperback copy of the book, it’s selling for only $6.25. Twisted Tales is being sold without a profit, in order to promote the art of flash fiction. If you feel generous, please write a review when you are done. Flash Fiction, for those of you not exposed to it before, is simply very short fiction–usually a complete story under a thousand words. Every year there are events for (Inter)national Flash Fiction Day, and this anthology is a celebration of both the event and the writing itself.

If you can not afford to buy the paperback, you can also read the stories online at the publisher’s personal website, linked below. Simply scroll back though the stories, and enjoy!

https://annieonwriting.wordpress.com/category/twisted-tales/

I’m very happy to have been included in this anthology, and I hope you enjoy reading the stories as much as I have. Now, go read some flash fiction!

 

Short Story: Cliffhanger

*warning: some profanity (three F-bombs)

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George Griffith, affable and lovable nice guy, stood at the cliff’s edge, hands raised  high in the air. He was accompanied by his loving wife of twenty years, their next door neighbor, Bob, and the neighbor’s annoying dog and cat. They mirrored George’s stance to the best of their ability. Bob, however, was only able to comply with one upraised arm–as the other cradled a goldfish bowl. Inside the bowl, however, his betta fish (who was also named Bob) hovered in the tank’s cloudy waters, his long floating fins in an attitude that suggested that he held his fins up in lieu of hands. The dog and cat merely lifted their heads.

“Now, jump.”  Mary Sue motioned with the revolver’s long nose toward the cliff’s edge.

George tipped slightly to view the depth of the proposed descent, then seemed to think better of it and edged slightly away. His companions did the same, mirroring his movements half a beat behind his own. The collars of the cat and the tiny dark pug made little tinkling sounds when they moved. Wet Bob leaned further away in his small glass prison. You may think it’s impossible for a fish to lean, but I assure you, with determination anything is possible.

“Uhhhh…no,” said George, shaking his head from side to side.

His companions shook their heads from side to side. The little bells on the collars tinkled. Wet Bob swished in his tank.

It was annoying.

“Go on now,” Mary Sue said, motioning the characters toward their imminent doom. “Jump.”

George shook his head again, and his companions followed suit. They looked to George as their spokesperson. “What’s my motivation?” he asked.

Mary Sue rolled her eyes, slowly inhaled, and silently counted to five before answering. “Motivation? Are you serious?” She looked at the gun, then back at George.

George gave a quick, nervous laugh before answering. “Well…yeah. I mean, if we are going to jump off a cliff…en masse, I assume…?”

Mary Sue nodded, and he continued, “If we are going to jump en masse off this very steep and scary cliff to certain death, wouldn’t we need some pretty powerful motivation?”

“I’m holding a fucking gun on you,” Mary Sue answered through gritted teeth. “That’s your fucking motivation, asshole.”

“But is it? Is it really?” George’s voice had taken on the condescending tone of someone reasoning with an idiot, rather than a man bargaining for his own life and the lives of others. “Because from where I’m standing, I don’t see how diving off a cliff is better than being shot.” Just at that moment, an updraft from the unseen depths blew his hat dramatically from his head, whistling mournfully as if to emphasize the point. The other characters on the ledge followed the Fedora’s progress with their eyes, heads turning as the wind whipped the accessory over the edge, until it was lost from sight. “See what I mean?” said George.

Mary Sue sighed and sat down on a conveniently placed boulder, careful to keep the revolver’s barrel aimed at her intended victims. “Crap, crap, crap,”  she  muttered, then added an extra crap just to emphasize her point. “I was afraid this was going to happen.”

“What?” asked George. Taking a tentative step toward her, his movements were mirrored half a beat later by his companions. When Mary Sue made no additional threats, they took a few more steps. “What was going to happen?”

“That the characters take control of the story,” she moaned. “I mean, sometimes that makes my job really easy, you know? But others, like now, I have to worry about proper motivation, backstory, did I give enough foreshadowing. I mean, I should be able to just throw you all off a cliff if I want to, right?” She turned pleading eyes on her wayward creations.

“Well, maybe you just haven’t come up with the right scenario yet?” said George, affable and lovable nice guy. He wanted to help her, even though she wanted to off him and everyone he cared about. That need to please at any cost was hardwired into him; it was one of the things that really didn’t work about his character. She hated that.

“What better motivation could there be but a gun aimed at you and your loved ones?” Mary Sue was intrigued by his line of thought, despite herself. Well, because of herself, seeing how all her characters were just different manifestations of her own thoughts, but let’s not quibble.

“Maybe…hmmm,” George mumbled to himself, then brightened. “Maybe my wife was cheating on me with Bob!” He grinned. His wife looked horrified, but he continued. “Yeah, and I’m so distraught that I force them all off the cliff, then jump myself!” By this time, he had made his hatless way to her side and gave her a friendly pat on the back.

Mary Sue put her head in her hands. “No, same problem, right? You would just shoot them. How is a cliff dive better than being shot?”

“Because I don’t need to worry about disposing of the bodies?” ventured George.

“He could threaten to shoot me in the groin!” volunteered Bob the neighbor (not Bob the fish). “That would be pretty horrific!” He looked pleased.

“Shut up, Bob. You’re just a side character,” answered Mary Sue. “I didn’t even intend for you to have any lines.”

Bob deflated, but George carried on. “No, he has a point. Some ways of dying are better than others, right? Painful versus painless, heroic versus cowardly, that sort of thing?”

Bob nodded his head in agreement, but Mary Sue glared at him before turning on George again. “Yes, but that is the point. I’ve just always wanted to throw my characters off a cliff when I’m sick of them, alright? Call it a writer’s sadistic fantasy. I make no apologies for that.”

“You’re sick of us?” said George. Being threatened with different types of death had been off-putting, but that really hurt. “Why?”

Why?!” countered Mary Sue, incredulity dripping from her lips like venom. “Because you are annoying, alright? Your character is flawed, and you say things like en masse. What real person says such a douchey thing? The characters I surrounded you with in the story are just window dressing, not fully developed people–which is why I have them mostly just react to you, George. Maybe I’m just a lazy writer, but it’s easier to have them follow the main character around rather than come up with full personalities for each and every one. It’s a short story, so is it even worth the trouble? And the animals! Holy frakking hell, what was I thinking with the animals? Half the time I forget they are there, so why’d I include them in the first place?”

“Maybe humor? You were being quirky,” said George, unrealistically helpful, as well as affable and lovable as ever. Half a beat later, his supporting staff nodded agreement–including his wife, the dog, the cat, and the Bobs.

“They don’t advance the story,” she replied.

“What’s the story about? ” asked George.

“Me throwing you off a cliff.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m sick of writing about you.”

“Well…damn,” said George. He swished his foot in the red dirt at the cliff’s edge. The other characters did the same, except Wet Bob–who swished in his tank. “What about the gun?” He pointed to the gun pointed at himself. “That’s interesting, right? Imminent danger, all that…you could describe what it looks like, the long silver barrel coated in dust, the way Chekhov is engraved in elegant script along the side, the way you pulled it dramatically from the mantel to point it at us-”

“What mantel? There’s just rocks here and a huge fucking drop.”

“You’re the writer, right? Couldn’t you just say there’s a mantel?”

“It’s like I’m talking to myself.”

“You are, remember? We are all just different manifestations of your own-”

“Shut up.”

“-thoughts, but let’s not quibble.”

“You are missing the point.” She glared. She sighed. She hung her head in frustration. She found many ways to express herself without actually moving from the spot, adding additional dialogue, or forwarding the plot in any significant way.

“Can’t you just stop writing about us?” asked George, and his supporting cast…know what? You get the idea.

“No, it doesn’t work like that,” she answered. “The story needs to be resolved in a believable and consistent way.”

“But how is throwing us off a cliff believable?”

“You see my problem.”

“Well, for one thing you aren’t throwing us off a cliff… ”

“Because you won’t listen.”

“No, not to criticize, but I mean, you are trying to make us jump–which isn’t the same as throwing us off.”

Mary Sue brightened. “You know, you’re right. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.”

“Technically you did,” said Bob the neighbor (not Bob the fish), “seeing how we are just different incarnations of your own thoughts-”

“Shut up, Bob,” said Mary Sue, and she shot him. “I don’t want to lose my train of thought, and I told you, you weren’t supposed to have lines.”

“-but…but…,” sputtered Bob as the life drained from his body, “but…let’s not…quibble.”

George looked at her in astonishment. So did his surviving supporting cast. Bob the fish flopped helplessly on the ground, where Bob the neighbor had dropped the now empty tank when he was shot. Both Bob’s burbled. It wasn’t pretty.

“So…,” mused Mary Sue, nudging both Bobs over the the cliff with one steel toed boot, “if I just shoot you first, I can throw you over the cliff myself. Then I don’t need to worry about your motivation.”

“Nudge, not throw,” corrected George.

She shot him. “And thanks for helping me establish my motivation.”  In quick succession she dispatched his supporting cast: the unnamed wife who resembled her own nosy neighbor, the dog that resembled the stray that tried to bite her every time she went out her own front door, and the cat that resembled the one that kept her up till three every morning with deafening feline orgies.

She set the gun back on the mantel that was mysteriously present in this deserted location. Then she bent down and shoved each one of her deceased creations off the cliff, whistling a joyful tune all the while.

Close enough, she thought.

 

*Image courtesy of BigFoto.com
**Thank you for visiting my blog. I will post my next story in three to four weeks, due to scheduling issues. I hope you enjoyed my little piece of meta, and have a lovely weekend!

Current Events: April and May 2017

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First of all, thank you for visiting! Normally, I post either poetry or short fiction, but every so often I like to share events going on in my area of Ohio. I try to update this blog once every two weeks.

I’m not sure how you made your way here, but I’ve recently attempted to consolidate my brand by updating my blog addresses and emails. This blog can be found via both https://catrussellwriter.wordpress.com/ and http://ganymeder.com/ . My other blog, which is more formal and serves as a resume, can be found at https://authorcatrussell.wordpress.com/ . My updated email, should you wish to contact me about my writing, is authorcatrussell@outlook.com .

Second, on to the fun stuff! There are several literary and creative holidays coming up, both internationally and locally, that I would love to share with you. Behold!

Saturday, April 29th

TABLETOP DAY: A wonderful geeky holiday for those who love tabletop gaming–from Dungeons & Dragons to card games like FLUXX! This may not seem very literary at first, but just think of all the storytelling and creativity involved in role-playing games. Plus, it’s just FUN. If you like, you can watch some TableTop via YouTube to help get into the mood; think Celebrity Poker meets Nerds.

Sunday, April 30th

CUYAHOGA LIBRARY POETRY OPEN MIC: The South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch of the Cuyahoga Library is finishing off National Poetry Month by providing a platform for anyone who writes poetry to share with an audience.

Come between 1:30 and 3:30, especially if you have written to one of the prompts they’ve provided during the month of April!

Thursday, May 4th

STAR WARS DAY: Watch out for deals and events at your local bookstores and comic book shops, because *ahem*

May the Fourth be with you…Always.

Saturday, May 6th

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY: This day is exactly what the name implies; it’s a day when comic book shops give away specially-printed FCBD editions of comics for free. You can visit the FCBD site to see what comics will become available, though each comic shop (that chooses to participate) decides which comics they will be giving away. Participating shops may also have special events such as cosplay costume contests, comic artist signings, and other giveaways. To find out which stores are participating in your area, simply visit the site and do a location search.

Wednesday, May 10th

HOOKS AND BOOKS: The Barberton Library hosts its monthly meetup up for crafters and bibliophiles at the local Kave Coffee Bar (584 W. Tuscarawas Ave.). Knitters, crocheters, and other needlepoint crafters are welcome to bring their latest project to work on and share whatever book they are reading. They also have a Pinterest group to share projects and book recommendations!

Thursday, May 25th

TOWEL DAY: This fan-created holiday honors and promotes the work of the late great Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, the Dirk Gently books, and Last Chance to See. There are tons of events around the globe, but the main way to bring attention to this holiday is by conspicuously wearing or carrying a towel with you wherever you go. For as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy points out:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.

And, of course, if you haven’t already read his books, the best way to honor an author is to read his work. If you can not afford to buy a book, simply visit your friendly neighborhood library either in person or via its online digital library. Trust me. His books are amazing.

I hope you are able to participate in at least some of these activities, and I wish you all the best! Have a lovely week!

 

POEM: Skeletal Remains

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“Skeletal Remains”

 

In visions of the dark night

I have dreamed of joy departed—

But a waking dream of life and light

Hath left me broken-hearted.

 

The sighing wind

gives breath to the darkness,

the stars lighting the ebony sky

like pinpricks of God’s grace

that pierce the blackened heavens

with dazzling white.

Who would dare disturb this quiet, wake those

that haunt deserted paths? Best

seek safety in the North Star, our pilot light

In visions of the dark night.

 

My eyelids close,

lids lowered against

the terrors that make me tremble and seek

solace beneath warm cotton covers.

The witching hour strikes–

a time too late for the faint-hearted

that quake and shake and turn away

from what they–what we–cannot bear to face:

the lonely dead, quiet and disregarded.

I have dreamed of joy departed—

 

What dreams may come

to those that can not face their fears?

Sheltering beneath shut lids

holds no solace for those

whose frightful visions follow them

beyond the veil of sleep: the blight

of a million cares and worries,

the looming spectre of loneliness

a demon–no longer safely tucked out of sight

But a waking dream of life and light.

 

The daytime hours

contain the demons that

haunt my nightly dreams.

I look within myself each dusk

–trapped between the sun’s escape

and the rising mercurial moon,– unguarded

yet I find imprisoned courage.

When shall I be released?

This time–too long before I meet my dear departed–

Hath left me broken-hearted.

 

*glosa of “A Dream”  by Edgar Allan Poe, written for the Day 9 prompt of #ReadWritePoetry courtesy of Cuyahoga Library, in honor of National Poetry Month

 

**image courtesy of BigFoto.com

 

Current Events: April is National Poetry Month!

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April was set aside as National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets to highlight poets, as well as encourage the reading and writing of poetry. Their extensive website has resources for anyone looking to celebrate poetry during the thirty days of April.

However, Ohio is triply blessed to be home to the Literary Cleveland writers’ group as well as two of the greatest library systems in the United States: Cleveland Library and Cuyahoga County Library. If you have not already signed up for Cuyahoga Library’s 30 Days of Poetry, please do so now; you will receive daily emails with a poem to read, a poetry prompt, and a poetry book recommendation.* You won’t regret it.

And if you don’t have plans yet for Saturday the eighth, Literary Cleveland is having another free poetry workshop. This one will be hosted by Damien Ware, a local activist with multiple degrees–as well as many public performances, open mics, and creative writing workshops under his belt. If you’d like to attend, the workshop takes place at the Cleveland Main Library from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Don’t forget to bring several copies of a poem you would like to work on.

Lastly, in the spirit of National Poetry Month, I would like to share a poem I wrote last April to one of the Cuyahoga Library’s daily prompts. I hope you enjoy it.

 

FOUR

This month’s showers

usher in Fools and flowers–

hightop Converse sneakers

crushing petals beneath scampering feet,

whoopee cushions and pranks

abound, thanks

to day one

anyone

can give themselves permission

to clown around.

 

And for those who, like me, are Shakespeare-obsessed,

though Touchstone or Bottom the Weaver might jest,

this twenty-third day celebrates best

the birth of the Bard who was foolishly blessed.

 

And another one is designated

to gaming, for those who appreciate it, not across a TV screen–

but with dice and boards, cards and caffeine,

strategy,  role-playing too.

No matter what your revenue,

Tabletop Day is celebrated–

among family and friends, it’s highly rated.

 

Set aside seven days

to honor libraries

a celebration

of book fairs, classes and classic

literature,  graphic

novels to check out

throughout

each community center;

just enter

and explore.

Can’t get there?  It’s fine. Online

there’s still more.

 

Yet thirty days of dedication

are given to poetry–versification,

meter and internal rhyme,

writing programs, slams,

and readings from every sunrise til sunset

ordinary people find the time

to access their inner poet.

 

A month of inspiration,

linguistic medication

for a world of weary souls.

If laughter,

perhaps inspired by those first Fools,

is the best cure for sickness,

witness

what a month of words and wisdom,

merriment and mirth,

can do to soothe

a world that aches for play

and poetry.

 

#

Thank you for your time. Go forth to read and write to your heart’s content, and remember that polite feedback is always welcome and appreciated!

 

*Since this is an email digest, I don’t believe you need to be an Ohioan to sign up for this free service. However, posts will naturally feature Ohio poets.

**image provided by kind permission of BigFoto.com

 

CURRENT EVENTS: Upcoming Literary Events for Northeast Ohio!

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Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! I wish you all a fun and educational weekend full of literary loveliness and green pancakes.

March is a great month for writers here in Ohio, land of cultural consciousness and indeterminate weather. On Saturday the eighteenth, Literary Cleveland is offering a free workshop, Transition and Transformation: Writing for Self-Discovery, that will focus on using writing to work through emotional life transitions such as divorce, an empty nest, or the beginning or end of a career. The workshop will take place from 12:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch of Cuyahoga Library, 1876 South Green Road, South Euclid, OH 44121. Registration is requested.

Later, you may also attend another Literary Cleveland free event, Crossing Borders: An Immigrant Narrative, featuring local authors reading their own work. This is actually a 90-minute performance directed by Marc Moritz, including poems, essays, and stories written by immigrants; during the show, pieces will be performed by professional actors. It should be a powerful and educational (as well as entertaining) experience.

Crossing Borders takes place on both Saturday the eighteenth and Sunday the nineteenth, at Cleveland State University, in the Student Center Ballroom (third floor),2121 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio. Both performances take place from 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Registration is requested.

Also, don’t forget to register for Cuyahoga Library’s Thirty Days of Poetry. The library will send you daily poetry prompts and poems throughout the month of April–so if you register now, you can get their daily email each morning to start your days off right!