Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Billy and the Cloneasaurus Wrap-up

So, you might be wondering what happened with the whole NaNo thing.  Remember?  I mentioned it earlier this month?  No?

Okay, well, anyway, you might be wondering about why I haven't posted an excerpt or a cover or anything on the blog, and if you clicked on the link above, you might've noticed there's no excerpt on my Nano page, either.

You might even be wondering why you've been staring at an embedded video of a brilliant cover version of Carmelita on the blog for the better part of the month instead of reading updates about my magnificent progress.  (And I do mean staring at the embed, apparently, instead of watching the video.  Only 46 hits?  What the fuck?  It's really good.  Seriously.  Make it a point to watch it sometime.)



About that...

Now, don't get me wrong, I did it, all right.  I got my winner's stamp and everything:

I won NaNoWriMo for the third time.  I'm batting a thousand, I guess.  And there's even a cover that already exists (thank you, internet!) because my title was an awesome reference to something else even awesomer:

It's just...

I hated it this year.  I hated how Billy and the Cloneasaurus turned out.  Hate-hate, too, not like, "Oh, I hate that dress on her."  It was sort of a combination of disappointment and disgust, because I had such high hopes for it.  This was to be, at one time, my grand, nihilistic, satirical masterpiece.  A scathing indictment of the modern world, a 1984 for 2011.  It was going to be great.  And it was great.

In my head.

As soon as I put my fingers to the keyboard it all turned to crap.  For one thing, there were no characters.  Every character was identical, and that was purposeful.  It was a world full of clones!  What could be a better satire of our modern society, where we're valued no differently than machines? 

And yet...

See, the thing about good stories is you like the characters, and you like seeing them interact.  Chewie, Han, or Lando are great on their own, just standing there.  But when Han starts arguing with Chewie, or Chewie starts choking Lando, it just becomes great.

And then there's Billy.  Purposefully frumpy, dumpy, middle-aged and balding, without a distinguishing characteristic in the world, because he's the perfect cog in the machine and would never make any noise.  And when he has his great epiphany, he, well, doesn't really change that much.  And the only people he has to bat this personality around with...are identical.  (Because they're clones, see.)  Change the characters, and the whole underlying metaphor of the book gets tossed.  Don't change the characters, stay true to the vision and the book sucks.

So, the book sucks.  I stayed loyal to my crappy vision.  It's done.  There was someone (I think it might've been Mark Twain) who once said, "Manuscripts don't burn."  Never in all my life have I felt more like testing the veracity of that phrase.

One last point of "interest."  My graph for this year:

You can compare it to last year's graph if you want.  But you know how you can tell I despised writing this book?  Because there are no peaks and valleys.  I just forced myself to write the bare minimum every day.  See on Day 15 how it seems there was a valley and then I made it up the next day?  Nope.  Just didn't update the wordcount until after midnight.  Then, at the end, when I could taste the breath of freedom from this awful, awful mistake, I stepped it up a little so I could finish.  Compared to the wild excitement and breathtaking grandeur of The Ghoul Archipelago this was a grueling tread up a slight incline.

So, sorry.  No excerpt.  Ever.  It's nigh unreadable.  Of course, remembering the mission statement of this blog, that might not mean anything sometime in the future when I'm a little less angry at Billy and his damned cloneasaurus.  Suffice it to say, they both died at the end.  They made roast beef sandwiches out of the cloneasaurus.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


A most mellifluous rendition of the Warren Zevon classic from friend of the blog, Frank Amanze.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

So long, Smokin' Joe

I wish there was something more adequate, but what can I say?  I'm a child of the '90s.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Dread and Breakfast: Appendix A

Here's a little something that's pretty neat, but doesn't really need to be done to enjoy the game.  I promise this will be the absolute drop-dead last entry in my series on Dread.  So if you read through the whole list of events, you'll see that the little alien goblins carry weapons which, instead of affecting the players physically, forces them to face horrible hallucinations which they can only escape for the price of a precious pull from the Jenga board.  Since I got permission from the player who made George Worthy to post his questionnaire here, I figure I'll show you the hallucinations I came up with for George.  It's all based solely on my bold and decisive psychoanalysis of his character.  (Trust me this is easier with players like the one who made George, where more information was given rather than less.)  It's neat, especially if you're running this particular scenario, although not strictly necessary.  (You could always say, "You're surrounded by terrifying hallucinations.  Pull a Jenga piece to escape them.)

Also, I should probably warn the kiddies under 18 who frequent this blog (numbering in the millions, no doubt), these hallucinations are a bit intense, so get your parents' permission before reading further.

(in ascending order of gruesomeness)

1.  Your beloved cat, Cassie. Her figure is gaunt and emaciated. She struggles to breathe, in the last throes of asphyxiation.  (This is where the pet question was valuable.  I figured players would probably go with something close to home.  George's player also specifically said that Cassie saved him from a gas leak.  He should certainly have trouble seeing the goblin as this in just killing it, being reminded of his beloved pet.)

2.  Your beloved cat, Cassie. She is coughing, as she did before her death. Looking closer, though, you see that her throat is slit. But that’s not how Cassie died. She died from a gas leak. Something tickles the back of your memory but fizzles.  (This is, of course, just a step up from the last hallucination.  Now in addition to the question about the pet, the question about the animal that George kileld comes into play.  I found this was a good combination for generating hallucinations - juxtaposing the beloved animal with the one you regretted killing.)

3.  The lamb whose throat you once cut. His neck is slit through and through again, as if by a dull and inexperienced hand. His esophagus is exposed, the rings of his throat rippling in the air. His eyes are accusatory.  (This is simply a graphic depiction of the killing of the animal George described.  If George keeps getting flashed with the alien weapon he will connect the second hallucination with the third, and the third with the fourth, and so on, so I tried to make them go sequentially in a sense.)

4.  Your mother, lying in a pool of her own blood. She looks up at you with damning, sheep’s eyes. Her throat is slit. You feel your hands shaking and hesitate to look down. When you finally do, you see a knife in your hands. You killed her. She raises a single quivering finger at you and says, “Judas!”  (Ah!  Creepy.  This is again nothing more than combining two questions: the one about the animal George killed and about who he was bringing with him to the B&B.  Again, this was a good vein for most of the character hallucinations, except when they didn't have both of those questions.)

5.  An astronaut points at you accusingly. You see that the line to his airtank is cut. Looking in your own hands you see a pair of scissors. As you step closer you see behind the mask that the astronaut is you, zombified and skeletal from vacuum exposure. It is the phantom of all your squandered dreams.  (This, again, was just a graphic depiction of a single question, in this case the second part of the first question: what do you wish you did instead of your current job.  It brings up all of the character's regrets.  Easy peasy.)

6.  An astronaut points at you accusingly. You see that the line to his airtank is severed. You step closer and see your own face behind the darkened visor, dead and zombified from vacuum exposure. You suddenly realize that the air line is not a line at all, it is an umbilical cord. The astronaut lifts his helmet. It is your own mother. She has murdered all your dreams and haunts you still.  (This is where the sequencing is important again.  Again, this is just combining two questions, what he wished he did and who he brought with him to the B&B.  I just made the logical leap that his mother was the reason he never became an astronaut, and then it was just a matter of making it super-creepy.  Now he should at this point be expecting the next hallucination to be an even more graphic depiction of an astronaut, but...)

7.  Your fiancée. Her throat is slit multiple times by a dull blade held by an inexperienced hand. Her eyes are like a lamb’s, which is when you realize that her throat and her whole visage is the same as the lamb you once killed on your cousin’s farm. You look down and in your own hand you hold a blade, the same blade you used to kill the lamb all those years ago. Your fiancée is murdered by your own hand, in the same manner that has haunted you all these years.  (Another good combination for the hallucinations: what would you do anything to protect, and then the animal that they killed.  Man, I got a lot of mileage out of that animal killing question.  Plus, after all the astronaut hallucinations he won't be expecting this to pop back up.  It's almost like playing on the character's repressions and just figuring out what "seems" important as opposed to what is "really" important to the character.)

And that's it, kids.  Hope you enjoyed our little foray into grueling terror.  I have no idea what the future holds for the blog, so stay tuned.  And if you're wondering how I'm staying up to date, check out my Nano page.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dread and Breakfast: Events

So, now that you've got the players and they know more or less what they're in for, and you've established a setting, the only thing left is for the plot to unfold.  Actually, there is one appendix I'll include on Friday (did I say this would be the last entry on Dread?  I meant second to last.)  Not every Dread game includes some of the home rules I've brewed up so that one is not such a big deal, but I'll include it anyway for fun.  

Now the way that I outlined the plot was mostly linear, but at a certain point I had to go by what the players might choose, and just establish what happens at each room or location on the farm at various times.  By the way, I'm a big sucker for puns, so sorry about the chapter titles. 

The villains of our tale (Google "Hopkinsville Goblins" if you don't mind crying yourself to sleep tonight and every night thereafter.)

HEARTH AND HOME – The legitimate guests gather in the parlor of the Bed and Breakfast.  The Farmer has built a roaring fire and is passing around wine and cheese.  The Guests (including the Investigator) plops down in comfortable plush chairs and couches and gets to know each other.  These encounters require no pulls, unless a fight gets out of hand.  Meanwhile, outside, The Criminal and The Stranded Player encounter one another in the cornfield.  Whatever they resolve to do, they ultimately knock at the door.

UNINVITED GUESTS – The Criminal and the Stranded Player are at the door as the last beams of sunlight disappear over the horizon.  They say whatever they’re going to say.  The other guests hear the commotion.  Everyone who is facing outside at this point sees a shooting star. 

TWO PULLS OFFERED – One is to determine if they are looking at the shooting star.  If they are, they see it has twin tails.  (For the two players on the porch this is two pulls, as they would have to be looking over their shoulders.)  The second pull determines how much attention they were paying.  If they were closely observing it, they are certain it was a plane crash.  (The two players on the porch are not offered this option.  It is unreasonable.)

At this point all of the players hear a crash, off in the cornfields.  At this point, the players can either opt to investigate the crash or hole up in the house.  If they explore, go straight to THE CRATER.  If they hole up, they hear a thumping beneath the floorboards.  If they explore that, go straight to THE SECRET OF THE CATACOMBS.  If they still hole up, ultimately they will all go to bed and go straight to THE SCREAM. 

THE CRATER - The players could search the cornfields all night and not find the crater unless they make A PULL.  With the tractor, it becomes much easier, although The Farmer will be pissed off about his crops and may not let them.  If they opt to go get the tractor, go straight to THE THING IN THE TOOLSHED.  When they find the crater, the earth is warm.  If they search around, for A PULL they can find glowing neon pink droppings and tiny, bird-like footprints.  If they dig at the site of the crash, they will find the buried ship but be unable to open it.  Any other searching will prove fruitless and they will ultimately have to return to the farmstead.  If they attempt to drive off, they will realize that the gas tank had a leak and they will putter to a stop.

THE SECRET OF THE CATACOMBS – If the players opt to explore the thumping in the wine cellar, they will quickly realize that the thumping is accompanied by a ghostly moaning.  For A PULL any character will recognize that one of the wine shelves is not what it seems.  The characters can easily push aside the shelf and find the secret Wittgenstein catacombs.  The walls are stacked with skulls and occasional vaults.  For A PULL, any character can pry open a vault, but they will just find bodies and names of various Wittgensteins throughout the centuries, going back to when they first came to Pennsylvania in the 1700s.  If they follow the sounds, they will eventually find Manfred Wittgenstein, who The Farmer will know was only supposed to be in his thirties.  Manfred is emaciated, with foot-long fingernails and lengthy beard and hair.  His eyes are bloodshot and all he can do is moan.  For A PULL a character can attempt to calm him down.  If they’re smart, they’ll see he’s in pain and check to see about GEORGE'S painkillers.  For a while, all he will reveal is that he believes he is being pursued by ghosts, ghosts trying to reconstruct themselves, and will often mention a floating eye.  He has mistakenly constructed this story about the scuttlers over the course of his year in the catacombs.

THE THING IN THE TOOLSHED – If at any time the players opt to go to the toolshed they will find that it appears to be rusted shut, which makes no sense to The Farmer, who oils and maintains it regularly.  For A PULL each, two people working together can get it open, or one person can struggle for TWO PULLS.  Once open, they hear a hissing in a dark corner, and a strange clicking sound, which for A PULL anyone can recognize as a language akin to morse code.  Anyone with a military or Boy Scout background will recognize it without a pull.  Anyone who goes inside will get flashed by the hallucination ray, prompting a hallucination (see Appendix A for examples.)  If anyone brings a flashlight or lantern, they will spot the creature but still be flashed.  Anyone who is flashed will have to make A PULL to regain their composure.  The thing will skitter away.  The players will each draw a hallucination card.  If anyone regains their composure, they can attempt to catch the creature with A PULL.  If anyone catches it, it will give them a prolonged flash, although they may attempt to dash its brains out with A PULL.  With cagey thinking and numerous pulls, the players may walk off with a prisoner, but mostly this event will put them on edge and send some of them into bouts of hallucination.  Naturally, once the thing has skittered off they can claim the tractor or other equipment from the shed with no trouble.

THE SCREAM - In the middle of the night, the screams of George’s mom pierces the manor.  Whoever awakens and rushes towards the screams will find themselves in the kitchen.  If they rush right for her room, they will find a hole in the floor, though it is unrelated more or less.  If they go to the kitchen Martha the cook is in the corner, sobbing like a lunatic – a victim of a prolonged blast from a flasher.  A sandwich sits on a plate on the counter – this was Mrs. Worthy’s which A PULL can probably easily reveal.  There is evidence of a struggle, and a trail of blood leading out through the parlor and foyer and off into the woods.  More disturbingly, though, the pantry is still open in the kitchen.  If the characters explore the pantry before following the blood trail, they will see that the dry goods have been ripped apart in an animalistic fashion – peanut butter jars clawed open, for instance, and loaves of bread gnawed through, plastic and all.  There will also be glowing neon turds on the upper cabinets and all over, in odd places.  For the price of A PULL, a character may find one of the green meanies’ flashers, which it left behind.  It is essentially little more than a flashbulb pointing out, with two buttons, each marked in an alien tongue.  Button 1 is supposed to soothe and Button 2 is supposed to drive men to madness.  If anyone thinks to use Button 1 on Manfred, he will return to lucidity, but will not otherwise.  If they pursue Mrs. Worthy into the woods, go directly to LOST IN THE WOODS.

FROZEN IN TERROR – If at any time the players decide to check the cold storage they will find a hole in the ceiling leading directly to the White Rose Room.  They will find a very unhappy green meanie, sans flasher.  (He left his flasher in the cupboard.)  He will be shivering and will be their best chance for taking a prisoner, but there is little they can get out of him and they will have to deal with the logistics of taking a green meanie prisoner.  Perhaps leaving him in the freezer is the best option?  This will probably lead to SIGNALLING THE AMISH or CALLING THE COPS.

SCUTTLER ON THE ROOF – At any point when the players are outside, they can look up at the roof and, for the price of A PULL, identify what appears to be a disembodied floating eye.  If they are sufficiently freaked out to run back towards the house, the eye will seemingly bob and float in through the attic window.  This should throw off their feelings that some kind of alien is involved, especially if Manfred Wittgenstein is with them.  If he is, he will start babbling about the ghosts coming in the night trying to reconstruct themselves.  This is the elaborate fiction he has constructed to himself to explain his plight.  If the players pursue the eyeball, go directly to ALIENS IN THE ATTIC.

ALIENS IN THE ATTIC – If at any time a player thinks to explore the attic, this will occur, although it is most likely to occur after SCUTTLER ON THE ROOF.  If SCUTTLER ON THE ROOF occurs after this, its impact will be diminished.  The players will find the attic is dark.  The Farmer may recollect a bulb with a chain somewhere, but he doesn’t go into the attic often and will have to fumble for it.  The attic window is already open.  Whoever stands there looking for the light (most likely The Farmer) will be freaked out to feel something light and spaghetti-like brush past him.  For A PULL this character can regain his composure, and for ANOTHER PULL he or any other character can find the light.  If they’re smart enough to have brought flashlights or lanterns, then can search and spot the scuttler for A PULL.  Otherwise, they won’t spot it until the light is on.  Then they’ll realize that it is actually what appears to be a spider with a single eyeball instead of a body.  It will continue to skitter around, including across the ceiling, and will attempt to evade any attempts to catch it by scuttling out onto the roof.  If they try to pursue it out onto the roof, it will almost certainly scuttle off towards the crater.  If they can catch it while it’s still in the attic, though, they will almost certainly smush it or break its legs.  Regardless, even if they catch it alive, all they will have gained is a mindless new hostage and a disquieting idea about what is attacking them. 

LOST IN THE WOODS – Go here if the players attempt to search the woods at any time, although this is most likely after THE SCREAM.  They should stick to the old hiking trail.  If they don’t, it’s going to be a hurricane of PULLS, and the green meanies will set upon them with flashers and teeth when they are at their most vulnerable.  If they stick to the trail, though, all will be fine in terms of footing.  Eventually they will reach the pond and see that the green meanies are in the center of the pond on the rowboat with George’s mom.  George will have to face his fear of hip-deep water

THE LANCASTER BARNSTORMERS – The players will likely be forced into the barn at some point.  They can make A PULL to avoid startling the horses, otherwise one or more will likely have their legs broken as the horses trample out.  They can do whatever they want, but the most likely plan is to head up into the hayloft, at which point the green meanies will promptly set fire to the barn.  The players can jump or try to pass through the fire and the green meanies.  There will be scuttlers in the hayloft.

IN THROUGH THE OUT DOOR – If the players retreat to the house, eventually the green meanies will start to come in through the chimney.  If they can kill all the ones in the parlor they can attempt to start a fire, though, of course, they will have to go for firewood or get The Farmer’s permission to start chopping up his furniture.

SIGNALLING THE AMISH – If the players want to contact the Amish neighbors, their best bet will be to grab the inflatable pig balloon in the attic.  The Wittgensteins sometimes flew it just to piss off the Amish, and The Farmer has already agreed not to fly it again.  If they see it, they will likely consider it a distress signal.  Of course, they’ll have to go through ALIENS IN THE ATTIC to get it, and then someone will have to inflate it for TWO PULLS.  The easiest thing would be to leave it on the roof, although you could of course also inflate it on the roof of the barn.

CALLING THE COPS – If The Farmer has had the phone line repaired, the players can attempt to call the cops.  Or, frankly, anyone, but whatever.  They have two options: the staties or the local sheriff’s dept.  If they call the locals, they will reach SGT Lindenmeyer.  Lindenmeyer will agree to come out if they pay, as the estate is outside the sheriff’s usual purview.  If they call the staties, they will reach Trooper Adams, who will promise to be out there in two, three hours tops.  If they manage to survive until then, the green meanies will simply lay low.  There’s a chance they might catch a mindless scuttler, in which case game over, Adams will call in all the cavalry.  That is, if they can keep him alive to get back to his radio after the green meanies attack.

WAR PIGS – When they return from the woods, at least one of the characters will notice that the pigsty is open and the pigs are nearby. 

TRAPPED IN THE JAKES – If George returns with his mother, they will be surrounded by green meanies with flashers who will corral him into the jakes. 

THE GRAND FINALE – The green meanies will make a hit and run against the group and kidnap one of the NPCs.  In any case, the green meanies will be moving slowly enough for them to follow them back to the crater.  This is when they will realize that the ship was buried beneath the earth.  They will find green meanies all around, carving crop circles in the corn.  If attacked, the green meanies will flee into the ship.  If he hasn’t already, Manfred Wittgenstein will have a moment of lucidity and explain why the green meanies came here.  He believes that he can offer himself in the captured NPC’s place if the players can get him safely to the engine room.  Pulls will come hard and fast in the alien ship and opportunities for heroic sacrifice will abound.  Players will encounter green meanies around every corner, and virtually every hallucination that hasn’t been seen will be seen.  If the players are successful they will release the NPC from an electric chair-like contraption and strap Wittgenstein in.  They will watch in horror as his head is decapitated and his brain scooped out to be used for the alien engine.  The ship will begin to rumble but they will be able to escape as the green meanies scramble away from them and towards their stations.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNoWriMo: An Unfortunately Named But Pleasant Experience

I hate to have a second interlude when you're all no doubt sitting on pins and needles looking for the last entry on the Dread and Breakfast series (you are sitting on pins and needles waiting for that, right?) but this period of the year is just full of all kinds of crap.  In addition to Halloween being yesterday, today is the first day of the unfortunately named but still pleasant National Novel Writing Month, or (shudder) NaNoWriMo. 

If you haven't followed us in previous years, NaNoWriMo is the...



If you're reading this blog, you know what it is.  And if you don't know what it is, that's what Google is for.  Anyway, 50,000 word, 30 days, I enjoy it, follow my badass progress here, have a blast, happy November.
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