Wastes of Corporate Time and Money

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Over the holiday break, I started to think about work.  It happens to all of us.  I started to think about all of the things we do in the world of the Corporate Overlords that are wasteful – both in terms of time and money.  We do many of these, “because we always have.” We often don’t think about or even question the usefulness of the process.

So here is my list of things that are utter wastes of time and effort:

Year-End Department Reviews and Recaps.  Every company does this.  “What did we accomplish over the last year?” Hours are wasted putting together a reminder that management is claiming credit for all of the hard work that you do.  We all know what we accomplished and it is embarrassing that we have to document it for our leadership.  Way to motivate!

Defining What Services Your Team Delivers.  “We need to catalog all of the services we provide.”  If your team has to invest time detailing what services you deliver, then your team is not really needed.  Talk about an exercise in navel gazing.

Company Mandated Fun. Company picnics, happy hours, team bowling, etc.  It is bad enough that I have to go to work every day for 9-10+ hours, but for the company to expect me to show up after work…well, that is douchebaggery.

Regular Status Reports or Meetings.  Preparing status reports is useful if you need decisions to be made or if there are issues that need to be addressed.  Otherwise these are pointless cost wasting efforts. I include in this RAID meetings where the status of the risks never changes.

Annual Reviews Where the Manager/Counselor Cannot Influence Raises or Promotions.  Organizations love to keep salary information secret, because if we knew what people were getting paid it would cause rioting in the streets.  If you can’t tell me how I am compared against my peers and how that impacts my career and money; why do we need to talk?

Town Hall Meetings Just For the Sake of Having Them.  “We didn’t have a lot to tell you, but it’s been a while since we shoved PowerPoint slides down your throat.” Some managers mistake having these meetings as “leading.” Let me help you, it is not.

Rebranding (anything).  Rebranding rarely solves problems. Calling something by a new name does not fix any underlying problems that exist.  In fact, most things tagged with the word, “branding” are mislabeled and misunderstood. If anything, it adds to the confusion.

Communications Reviews. Nothing defines time-wasting like someone who sends around a message or email for review and input.  By the time you get eight people to contribute to anything, it is diluted and usually much longer than necessary.  No one has ever been fired because of a lack of proper sentence structure…just send the damn message.

Enforcing Company PowerPoint Standards. This screams “Hi, we’re here to stifle creativity!”  Companies like to box in innovation by saying, “Your PowerPoint decks have to adhere to our dull, boring, bland, and emotionless standards.  PowerPoint standards are pointless monotony in digital form. Yes, I understand that it is all about the company brand.  But you are also telling your customers that you don’t flex enough to demonstrate creativity.

Webcasts or Meetings With Live Audiences and Clearly Staged Questions.  We have all been there, when someone gets up and is clearly reading a prepared question. Save me some time – write that stuff down and email it to me.  Or better yet, don’t!

Timesheets for Internal Functions/Teams.  Timesheets are the bane of business.  I actually worked in one place that had a charge code for the time used to fill out timesheets.  Back office operations don’t need this.  We are not billable.  Our utilization is irrelevant for billing purposes. Having administrative activities fill out time sheets is an utter waste of time and effort.

Eighty-Percent of Live Meetings.  There are times, rarely, when a face-to-face meeting is needed.  Usually it is not.  More often than not these meetings are held so that people can rack up their frequent flyer/hotel points.

Creating Mission Statements.  I dedicated an entire blog post on this one.  Humorous Mission Statements ‘Nuff said.

Learning With Required Pass/Fail Tests. This does NOT prove that you understand the content.  It only proves that you have passed the test.  It doesn’t drive a bit of behavior.  And who was the moron that thought that 80% was a passing level?

Employee Satisfaction Surveys.  I am all in favor of doing surveys, if you intend to take the data and do something with it.  I took one for years where the results clearly pointed to issues with leadership. The actions that were taken were to educate us, the staff, because clearly we didn’t realize how awesome our leadership was.  The action that should have been taken was to fire some of those managers (or break their kneecaps, I’m pretty flexible here.) When they saw the results, most leaders spent their time either trying to track down who gave the negative feedback or to argue why the data was invalid.  “We were in the middle of reorganizing…so you can disregard the negative stuff.”  Morons.

Company Dress Codes.  I remember when the firm I work for allowed blue jeans on Fridays (only in the summer).  They called them dungarees.  Seriously.  Wow, talk about dating yourself!  Most offices, in a vain attempt to appear more hip to the millennials, have pretty much ignored dress codes…but for some reason keep them up to date.  It’s a pointless exercise at best – a wasteful one at worst.

Meaningless Compliance Exercises.  Annually you must read the code of conduct, then click on five buttons to acknowledge that you will follow it.  Nothing says trust like a forced reading assignment.  It also does not assure compliance, only that you acknowledged you read the material.  It’s akin to clicking on a software licensing agreement.  We all do it, but do any of us sit and read that stuff word-for-word?

Videos About Senior Leaders.  Look, if your ego is so big that you have to order videos created about how great you are, well, you’re a douchebag.

Providing Feedback For The Sake of Providing Feedback. Most feedback we get in the world of the Corporate Overlords is fluff…meaningless praise. People don’t want to give critical feedback because it upsets people and requires uncomfortable follow-up discussions and usually a dab of retribution.  Forced feedback accomplishes little.

Dashboards For The Sake of Having a Dashboard. If it doesn’t drive decisions, actions, or raise concerns…it is a waste of effort and time. The more graphic intensive it is, usually the more wasteful.  Can we only produce these monstrosities when there is a problem looming?

Meetings That Could Have Been Emails Instead. I traveled an hour and a half to attend a meeting that lasted 20 minutes.  That could have been covered in a two sentence email.  A lot of meetings are utter wastes of time.

Every Self-Help Diagnostic Tool or Bot Ever Written.  Memories of Microsoft’s talking paperback haunt my dreams.  Does this feel familar?  “Did this answer your question?”  “No”  “Why didn’t it? (Provide response in this box).  “Because it didn’t have the answer.”  “How would you rate this response?  “Do you have something below one star?”  I get it, robotics – automation.  It’s a cost cutting move. Write a bot, lay someone off.  I have yet to encounter a self-help tool that actually helped or provided a meaningful answer.

People Presenting Information in a Meeting by Reading to You The Slide They Are Showing.  “It may shock you Veronica, but I can actually read on my own.  I have been for years!”  If all you are doing is reading, you should not have been allowed to schedule a meeting.

Working Through Lunch. “I’ve ordered in food so we can work through lunch.”  “All that proves is that you are an asshat.  Oh, and how did you know what I wanted to eat?  Jackass.”  Most people can barely do one thing at a time well.  Eating and working – generally is non-productive. Why not let everyone step out for a half-an-hour to eat?  Is your productivity gain really worth that rubber-chicken-salad-sandwich-wrap’s cost? Also, I don’t want to watch other people eat – especially coworkers.

Any Trophy, Plaque, or Award and The Cost to Present/Ship Them.  The time for me to get awards was back in high school.  I have a box in my basement filled with hunks of plastic thanking and congratulating me on stuff that I have done or accomplished at work.  They mean so much to me I stuff them in a box. I swear, I will burn them one day.

Exit Interviews.  Seriously, has HR ever taken tangible action based on exit interviews?  These are designed for one thing – to ferret out possible lawsuits as an employee leaves – period.  Think about it, at that stage, it’s a bit late for action, isn’t it?

So what have I missed?  Please add in the comments.  Oh, and check out my funny book on work – Business Rules.

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Non-Spoiler Review of Spider-Man Far From Home

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This image about sums it up for me

I was fully prepared for this movie to be a let-down after Avengers Endgame.  It’s the first out of the chute after the massive climax…how good could it be?

It is great.  I always gauge my superhero movies by my wife being able to stay awake – and she did!  There are some plot twists to this one, one of which is hopelessly obvious to anyone that has read a Spider-Man comic in the last four decades or so…but they managed to pull it off in an awesome way.

We get our first glimpse into the universe post the snap, called The Blip in the film.  I hated the name mostly because it is what my initials spell, BLP.  That was a tough one to live down as a kid – but I digress.

The movie has a good mix of serious stuff and humor, which is trademark for the MCU films.  More importantly, I felt like it really dove into the classic Spider-Man mythos.  Spider-Man was a kid for many years, dealing with the issues of a teenager.  That is what made a lot of classic Spider-Man comic stories. It was great to see the writers going to that source material and giving us all a cool Spider-Man story.

The plot was solid, well-paced, and gives us a perspective of Spider-Man as an Avenger which is new and refreshing.  Fury and Hill are well played too, which made the movie pop for me.  The secondary characters of May and Happy are well written into the script as well.  Kudos for the writers who did a top-notch job with this script.  Following Endgame had to have really put some pressure on them.

There are two post-credit scenes – so stay in your seat.  One leaves more questions than it answers.  The final one was a stunner.  An absolutely brilliant piece of casting (the casting folks never get the credit they deserve) and really was a shocker in terms of the potential storylines.

I loved it – so did my son, my grandson, and my wife. How often can you pull that off with a movie?  Five out of five stars.

Review of the True Crime Podcast – Man in the Window

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I am not a huge podcast follower when it comes to true crime.  When I do listen, I put one on in the background when I write.  There is a lot of people competing in the true crime space for podcast time.  Some don’t resonate with me well.  I don’t like the ones that joke a great deal.  I get it, you want to stand out and lighten the mood.  To me, it feels disrespectful.  Same for the drinking and true crime podcasts.  I never got into the concept you could pair a wine with a crime…but that is a matter of personal preference on my part.

We drove to Michigan this week to visit family and my wife asked me to play some true crime podcasts on the trip.  This was high on my list and I was not let down.

Man in the Window is gripping.  One, it was done by a writer for the LA Times who has dived deep into the Golden State Killer case.  This podcast really grabs you with a mix of interview snippets and a compelling story.  It is professionally produced, top-notch stuff.  At the same time, the most gripping part is not the production – it is that it provides us all with an in-depth view of the Joseph DeAngelo, the accused Golden State Killer.

Accused is a light word here, a formality.  It is hard to dodge multiple DNA hits.  He totally did it.  But what we have never gotten is “why.”  This podcast gets us much closer to that answer, delving into his background.  The interview with his former girlfriend is creepy, and weird, and the kind of stuff you can’t pause.

This is good investigative journalism colliding with social media to produce a wonderful and sufficiently eerie experience.   I highly recommend this podcast to any true crime aficionado.  An easy five out of five stars.

 

 

 

 

 

Gen Con Survival Tips – Updated for 2019

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Yes, those are Superman and Batman BattleMechs

Yes, it is that time of the year again – time for my unsolicited updated list of Gen Con tips survival.  These are to be treated as tongue and cheek – intended with a hint of a sense of humor.  If you’re offended, well, suck it up…this was intended to be useful and hopefully funny.

So, here’s my annual tips – updated where appropriate.

#1:  Plan in advance.  Go online, figure out what you want to do.  DO NOT try and figure all of this out while you are at the counter buying tickets.  This is like that person standing at line at Starbucks for 15 minutes, getting up there and going, “Hmm…I’m not sure what I want…”  Don’t be that guy.  Everybody hates that guy.

#2  Getting into the city.  Indianapolis is easy to navigate. It is hairiest to drive into the city on Thursday and Friday because of the locals who work there. The good news is that rush hour in Indianapolis is not horrible. The locals think it is, but it isn’t (I live outside of Washington DC.)

#3  Parking.  Okay, this is tricky.  Thursday and Friday, you have to compete with the locals for parking spaces.  Many lots fill up by 10:30am.  In other words, be prepared to walk some distance on those days.  I have a secret place or two for parking – which I won’t reveal.  The key is, get there early before the garages fill up.

#4:  Pack as if you are going to be at the convention center for 16 hours straight…because you are.  Slip in some snacks because let’s face it, convention food is expensive and sucks.  Bring pencils, pack your lucky dice (you know the ones!) graph paper, phone charger, a small tape measure (for miniatures games), aspirin, you know – typical geek gamer survival gear.  Think over seriously if you need to bring all of your rules books and game manuals.  Chances are the guys running the game are going to have a copy there.  Don’t over pack.  You don’t need to bring your PC with you, I’m almost positive.  Keep it simple, keep it light.  Pack what you need but remember, you’re not setting out to climb Mt. Everest (or Mt. Doom, your choice.)

#5:  Be prepared for the rush to the main hall when it opens.  Yes, when the balloon goes up and they open the doors to the sales floor, it is a geek equivalent to the running of the bulls in Spain (albeit a little safer).  Don’t fight the masses, ride it in.  Also – DON’T RUN.  The convention folks really hate people that run.  To answer your question now:  Yes, it’s that crowded every year.  You can’t get in without a badge, have it out and visible.  The Stormtrooper Door Guards will stop you dead in your tracks, meaning you are subject to being trampled by the crowd surge.  Also, nothing sucks more than being in a crowd of 2000 only to find out you have turn around and run back to the hotel room through a sea of angry and exited geeks.

#6:  Get generic tickets. Events are sold out, but people don’t show.  When they don’t, you can use generic tickets to get into anything.  They are wonderful little gems to have tucked away.  Don’t worry about having leftovers, you can go to the BattleTech pods and spend ‘em.

#7:  Cosplay is part of the experience and is encouraged.  If you are going to do it, don’t design a costume that is going to injure passersby.  Think it over.  No one is more of a douche-bag than a guy that has designed a costume that is hard to get around or trips/blinds people when you pass.

#8:  If you’re going to be one of those people who stop in the middle of a crowd to take a picture of the booth-babe wearing a chain mail bikini, do it quickly and don’t clog up the corridor.

#9:  Bathe and use deodorant.  This shouldn’t have to be a tip, it should be common sense.  Based on my own experience moving through the crowd, I had to include it.  Look, you paid for a hotel room right?  Go back at some point and at least use the shower.  Foot powder, toothpaste, and clean clothing (a fresh set for every day) shouldn’t require mentioning – yet here I am doing it.  Why?  Because people don’t do it!

#10:  While you have no adult supervision and can do what you want, be respectful of others.  In other words, bringing your leftover Taco Bell burrito from dinner to that 8am gaming session and eating it during the set-up is just wrong.  You do know that their meat isn’t real meat, right?

#11:  For your meals eat outside of the convention center.  First, convention food sucks and is expensive.  My memory is that a single, room-temperature, piece of convention cardboard pizza runs around $425.  I don’t blame the folks in Indianapolis for this, it sucked when the convention was in Milwaukee too.  I also like the brisk walk to the attached mall.  They have a food court, variety, better prices, and it’s a hoot watching the locals interact with the convention attendees.

Go only five blocks away and there are a LOT of eating places.  Pita Pit is great.  Gamers hate leaving the convention site, even for an hour for food, so if you are willing to walk, downtown has a LOT of eating options and the further you walk, the smaller the crowds.  I recommend taking the stroll.  Ten minutes of walking gives you a few minutes of peace and quiet.

The Food Trucks are your best friends.   I only discovered where these vendors parked four years ago and found their offers to be a much better alternative to eating on-site at the con.  Let’s face it, everything is better than the food in the convention center.  While we’re on it…

#12:  Don’t frighten the locals.  Look, Indianapolis really seems to like having Gen Con in town – well, at least they like our money.  Don’t try and frighten that family on the sidewalk with your Orc costume waving a sword and cursing in Orkish.  A lot of locals come down town to look at the cosplay folks – don’t add to their stereotype images of us.  Not cool dude.

#13:  While I totally appreciate Cosplayers, sometimes the costumes are confusing as all hell.  Don’t be insulted if people ask you, “who are you trying to be?” Obviously show the cosplayers some respect.  While you may think their costumes suck, they put some work into them.

#14:  There is always someone that knows the rules better than you.  He’s arrogant, overweight, and wearing a black tee-shirt (then again, who isn’t?)  Nothing kills a game faster than two guys trying to prove who is smarter about the rules regarding the splatter effect of a Mark IV plasma rifle in zero-G.  We get it, you read and memorized the rule book.  Stop ruining game play for everyone just to demonstrate your incredible powers of memorization…please.   We refer to these individuals as Rules Douches, or the more French- La Rules Douchebag.

#15:  Don’t just sit around.  Go and check out the miniatures games, or some of the big events like the Live Dungeon.  You didn’t shell out all of that money to sit and read a catalog you picked up did you?  The convention won’t come to you – you need to move.

#16:  Do some prep work if you are planning on buying some specific products.  Some companies are bringing limited quantities of games to the con for each day, or a certain day.  If you aren’t in line at the right time, you’re hosed.  The short version of this:  Make up your mind on what you are going to purchase and do it.  If you wait too long that newly released product can/will sell out.  Check the web sites and Twitter feeds of your favorite companies to see if that new product will be available and when.

#17:  Wear comfortable shoes.  Preferably shoes that do not have a predetermined aroma.

#18:  Go back to your hotel at night and get some sleep.  The convention is not designed as an endurance test.  You’ll need the energy.  All night gaming is great, if you’re young, but even then you need some sleep.

#19:  Attend the auction.  You’ll be able to tell your wife/mother/cat/significant other than that shelves and containers of games you have ARE of value.  You’ll be surprised at what games people collect and what they will pay for one.  It’s also kind of fun to see last year’s hot products being sold for a pittance of what people paid for them a year ago.

#20:  Play the demo games.  Look, games cost money – a LOT of money.  I sit in on demos, watch tournaments, etc. to figure out where I’m going to spend my cash.  I recommend you do the same.  Try some things you’ve never played before.  Think of this as a chance to test-drive new games and systems.

#21:  Don’t insult your favorite writer or game designer intentionally.  These guys work hard to produce your fun.  Don’t be “that guy” that shows up to tell someone how horrible a product they wrote in 1992 was, or how they made a mistake in an out-of-print 1989 book.  We get it, you can read.  If you’ve traveled all of this way to show off your knowledge, you’re a decade or two off.  If you meet writers, authors, artists, designers – be cool and respectful.  As a writer in the industry, I welcome comments from fans…but there is a limit to critique that I will endure, and I am not alone.  As a corollary – there is a limit to the number of things you want autographed.

#22:  Go early to the con.  Get out of bed and get to the convention early.  There’s a lot going on and the lines are significantly shorter.  I hit the MechWarrior pods usually at 8-9am when the convention hall is empty-ish.  They are a tradition I am addicted to.

#23:  WIN.  Savor your victories.  Cherish the lament of your foes as they are crushed under the weight of your killer die rolls and strategy!  Don’t rub it in, but enjoy it.  Serious dude, don’t rub it in when you win.  You didn’t travel all of this way to lose did you?  Hell no!  In other words, have fun!

#24:  Don’t wear costumes that are designed to deliberately upset people.  Skip the political stuff.  Someone is going to be upset and that isn’t the intention of going to a convention and having fun.

#25:  Wear something other than a black tee shirt.  At Gen Con, black tee shirts are like camouflaged ghillie suit for snipers.  Everyone is wearing a black tee shirt.  Someone someday will earn a PhD studying why gamers are drawn to black tee shirts.  In the meantime, I recommend wearing something else (something clean), in a color other than black.  Corollary:  Reading the hilarious tee shirts is one of the more phone things about the Con.

#26:  Don’t abuse your demo time in any booth.  Okay, in the main showroom, the vendors often offer short demos on their products.  These are a major part of the experience.  Don’t abuse the privilege.  I saw one guy camped out a table last year for four hours.  There were a lot of people wanting to sit in, but this guy had decided to turn a demo into a full-fledged campaign.

#27:  Remember the Gen Con food groups.  Caffeine, Chocolate, Salty Snacks, Caffeine, Pointless Carbs.  Beef Jerky, while not a formal food group, is also permissible but please be discreet when eating it – no one looks cool tearing into a piece of jerky.  Yes, Caffeine is listed twice because it is that important.

#28:  If you want to do free events plan on a wait or get there early.  A good example of this is the Paint and Take event Reaper puts on.  It’s cool to get a free mini you paint there, but everyone wants to do it and there’s usually a line.

#29:  If you want the Convention giveaways – go to those booths first thing when the doors open.  A lot of these vendors run out in the first 20 minutes.  They often have more of the freebies, but limit the number they give out each day.

#30:  Con-Crud – prepare for it.  Con Crud is not a new module release of Pandemic – it’s the social plague that hits thousands when they return from Gen Con on the following Monday.  Use hand sanitizer (you have to bring your own on this).  Load up on vitamins and other legal medications aimed at reducing colds, flu, or whatever it is that morphs into Con-Crud.

#31:  Patronize the places the support Gen Con.  If they support Gen Con, support them.

#32:  If you have a young one with you, go the Lucas Oil Stadium.  I took my grandson last year and there was a ton of stuff for us to do together.

#33:  Don’t overschedule.  This one came from my compadre Scott.  Leave yourself some time to soak it all in.  Otherwise you miss a lot of the convention just bouncing from one event to another.

#34:  Meet the celebrities.  I’m not just talking about the “name” celebrities.  This is a chance for you to track down that favorite author or artist and shake their hand.  I make a point at every Gen Con to network and meet people (and re-meet people I met years before).  Mingle and be social.

#35:  “Language” I’m noticing more and more kids at the Con which is great.  I bring my grandson.  If you feel the need to curse, make sure only the adults are around.

#36:  Take advantage of the crowds to do things you want to do.  Look, at 10am, everyone is lined up to get into the main hall.  That’s the perfect time to do things that otherwise have long lines.  For me, that is when I hit Paint and Take.  Understand the masses, don’t always be part of the masses.

#37:  If you are in a wheelchair, it is not a weapon to clear the crowds.  I got hit by someone in a wheelchair last year just standing still.  He just plowed into my ankle because he wanted to get through.  I’m understanding, but not that understanding.

#38:  You will get a book of freebie coupons.  If you plan on redeeming them, you need to do it first thing in the main hall.  Some of that stuff disappears in a matter of minutes.

#39:  Some booths have a line.  Paizo, Fantasy Flight Games, CMON, Catalyst…they all have lines.  Lines just to get into the booth to look around.  Lines for the demos.  Don’t get discouraged, it is almost always worth the wait.  If these guys are high on your list, go straight there when the doors open.

#40:  Play some things you never have before.

There you have it guys – GAME ON!

#GenCon

Our next book – Tantamount – The Washington DC Freeway Phantom Serial Killer

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The time has finally come to tell folks what my daughter Victoria Hester and I have been working on.  Our next true crime book is about the Freeway Phantom serial killing spree, 1971-72.  We have been working for over a year and a half on the book, gathering research materials, interviewing investigators, etc.

We have both been heads-down writing and are nearing the completion of the first draft.

For those of you not familiar with the Freeway Phantom, he struck in Washington DC’s Southeast neighborhoods (primarily) in the early 1970’s.  Depending on the list you use, he killed between six and eight young girls, sexually assaulting then strangling them.  On one, he had the victim write a note that was left with her body – taunting the authorities to “Catch me if you can.”  The book title comes from a key word in the note he had his victim write.

Was the murderer cunning and crafty, or damned lucky?  Why did he stop…or did he?  Were there other victims?  Who were the suspects, and why?  We have been able to really pry this case wide open in some areas – providing more facts than the public has known before.

This book will be different than our last book, A Special Kind of Evil, in several ways.  Our last book focused heavily on the victims and their stories.  With Tantamount, we are focusing more on the investigation.  Our efforts to contact the family members have, understandably, been either disregarded or in some cases, outright rejected.  These folks have had nearly fifty years of reporters dredging their painful losses up – and we respect that.  On top of that, the victims were very young, making it difficult to write a great deal about them.

It is a different style of book, as a result…a little grittier, with some real insights as to how and why the case became so cold.

My co-author/daughter Victoria and I have been immersed in this for a while now.  Even how we split the book up is different this time around.  I’m not sure which one of us had the harder job. There are nights when I am done that I feel physically and mentally exhausted. Serial murders are like that.

We are quite excited about the book. For us, it is a chance to thaw some cold cases…bring them to the light of day and expose new information, facts, and details that might bring in new tips for the authorities.  Our books on cold cases have always succeeded in that in the past, and we’re confident this one will as well. Though with this one the solvability gets harder each passing day.

In some instances we have struggled to get information – where in other areas, we almost have too much data.  I’ve corresponded with prisoners, which is interesting and weird at times.  Victoria and I have been all over Washington DC meeting with former detectives who themselves are still on the case.  From a local bar on Pennsylvania Ave to hours at the DC Superior Court, we’ve been finding information in the most interesting of places.

The book will present reams of new data about the cases that has never been made public before.  We have learned a lot about not only the key suspects, but how the case went off the rails and has remained cold all of these decades.  We have been stonewalled by the Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department on numerous fronts.  Still, I think we have prevailed and have been successful in crafting a meaningful story out of these murders.

Something else we will be doing differently with Tantamount is that we will be doing a podcast about the Freeway Phantom that will coincide with the book.  We’ll be talking not only about the case, but about writing about the book as well.  It will be an insider’s look into the Freeway Phantom cases and is likely to include some details we couldn’t confirm or include in the book.  Think of this as a companion.  We’re new to producing a podcast, so we ask you to be patient with us.  Our goal is simple – get this right and get it with a high quality.

Don’t worry, we will still be talking to other podcasters out there too.  The true crime community is tight knit.  Several podcasters out there encouraged us to take this step to go out on our own.

Wild Blue Press is going to be the publisher.  We liked what they did with A Special Kind of Evil and you tend to stick with a winning combination.

So there you have it…another serial killing case near our homes and hearts.

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 32 – Judgement of the Church

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Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. Parts 1-19 charted the first part of the campaign, part 20 began the next phase of the saga: Tempora. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!

Arius…

With the Battle of the Horns of Essex over, we began our trek to return the paladins to their fortress at the Great Gap the next morning after burying the dead and blessing their graves.  I felt a sense of humiliation at having lost the sword to Viktor Barristen.  The thought of what he might be able to do to the paladins still trapped in the blade was chilling.

We were only a day’s march to the end of the foothills of the mountains when we camped for the night.  It was not a night when we would get much sleep.  I was awakened by Brandon to tell me there were sounds in the brush.  We silently armed ourselves and listened, hearing orkish voices.

Athalus stood proud.  “Orcs. I speak orc.  I can handle this.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“I’m quite charming,” he said flashing a wry grin.

Our warlock called out, “Rut Roh Rhaggy!”

“Rubie-Rubie-Roo,” came a voice back from the brush. I can only assume that Athalus was communicating with them.  A party of six orcs emerged from the brush.  Athalus continued to grunt and speak orc to them for several minutes.  He even showed them his nipple ring, then turned to us.  “I told them we were the tribe of the Big Tusk.  It’s all good.  Don’t attack.”

After a long series of grunts, belches, and other guttural sounds, Athalus went to his pack and pulled out the small cask of mead that he had been carrying since we have met with Dimitrious. We passed the potent mead around, barely able to tolerate their stench.  Having consumed our alcohol they told Athalus that they wanted to camp with us.  My instinct was the kill them, they are orcs after all – God only knows what kind of pillaging they had done.  But we did not.  In the morning they moved on.

“I think they liked us,” Athalus told us. “Who knows, we may run into them again.”

Great. These are the kinds of allies we do not need.  We marched out, finally coming out of the forested foothills into the rolling hills.

We marched for a day or so when we heard the sound of hoof-beats thundering on the plains.  I was hopeful that it was a greeting party from the castle, but I was wrong.

They emerged from over the hills and were not like any creatures I have ever seen.  Ungainly bird-like lizards, tall as a man, outfitted with saddles.  I could only catch glimpses of their green hides, for they were wrapped in rotting bandages of some sort, mummified yet alive and quite agile.  They had large horns, yellow with age.  On their backs were skeletons, adorned in black robes, some holding rods, others swords, one holding some sort of ungodly symbol.  There were four of them – and they were flanked by three armored knights, elven I believe, with lances.  They had, on their armor, a black heart symbol – which I did not know what it represented.  We saw them at a distance and realized that they were no escort.  They had come to fight us…to kill us.

It was clear that someone did not want us to reach the safety of the castle.  Barristen…it had to be.

They rushed us and we dug in, using our spears as a phalanx in the sod, forcing the elves to flank.  One of the skeletal riders held out small rod and from it a fireball erupted – boring right in on Brandon.  There was a mighty explosion and we saw him no more, only the black-charred grass where the ranger had once stood.  Athalus emerged from the flames, his robes smoldering slightly from the explosion, only to be hit by a lightning bolt from one of the cloaked skeletons. Smoke from the fireball hung heavy in the air as our paladin comrades moved to the left flank, breaking apart the onslaught, wading into the riding elves.

Skullringer shimmered in my hands as I rushed forward, taking out part of mummified lizard’s body as they charged us.  I caught a glimpse of Dimitrious leaping in front of one, his fists a blur of savage strikes that knocked the mummified lizard mount to the ground, throwing its skeleton rider hard.  Bits of the torn cloth of the mount clung to his bloodied fists.

Theren morphed into the bear we had been so accustomed to.  It savaged two of the attackers, sending bits of bone and rotting lizard hide flying in the process.  Althalus tried to provide the paladins cover with his emerald magic blasts, but missed widely, no doubt stinging from the lightning bolt he had taken.

I saw Sir Bentblade, the paladin commander wade into one of the elves that rushed him, knocking him from his saddle so hard that he was doubled over in agony.  He drove his sword into the rider hard, then seemed to pause in a quick prayer.

Dimitrious finished the last of them, springing at one of the skeletons and grappling with it, twisting him out of the saddle and onto the ground.  He tore the skeleton apart with his furious blows.

Glancing around we saw that only one of our comrades was gone – Brandon.  We began to look for any sign of him where the fireball had hit.  Suddenly he emerged from the woods.

“What happened?” I asked.

“That ring I found — I used the word on it and it teleported me just as the fireball hit.  I was about a mile away.  What did I miss?”

“The entire battle,” Athalus said.

Looking around the dead elves and rotting corpses I waved my hand.  “All of this…”

Suddenly there came more thundering hoof beats on the ground and we saw paladins of the Order of the Fang appear.  When they saw Bentblade they nearly wept.  “Commander – we thought you lost.” They were overjoyed.

The old warrior nodded grimly.  “Let us get to the castle – there is much to discuss.”

We made our way to the castle gates and inside.  Paladins on the ramparts and in the court all surrounded us and those paladins we had saved from Tempora.  For the first time in a long while I felt a sense of relief.  We were safe here, safe for the first time in weeks.

Then Bentblade spoke.  “Arrest those two immediately,” he said pointing to Athalus and Theren.  Theren immediately morphed into a wolf and darted through the gate, but our warlock was quickly grabbed by no less than three armed paladins.

“What is going on here?” I demanded.

“They used magic banned by the church…they must now face charges of heresy.”

“We saved your lives!” I charged, but I saw hands drift to sword hilts, ready to fight.

“Aye, you did,” Bentblade said.  “But they used unholy magic.  You know that matter must be dealt with.  We will hold a trial to determine this one’s fate,” he stabbed a finger at Athalus.

I wanted to fight right then and there, regardless of the odds.  But I was a holy man…I knew church law as well.  “At least let me be his advocate at court.”

“Very well…” Bentblade said.

Althalus was taken off to a cell somewhere and we retired to our rooms.  The trial was two days hence.  I mended my armor, sharpened my sword, and prayed.

 

We came to the inner court for the trial and Brandon suggested trying some ruse and disguise to get in.  The guards heard him and kept him at bay while we disarmed and entered.  With Dimitrious at my side I felt confident.  The monk’s most deadly weapons were his hands…so if it came to a fight, we were well armed.

Athalus was brought to the stand, flanked by two armored paladins as Bentblade read the charges.  “The unholy use of magic, unnatural transformation (leveled only at Theren who was being tried in absentia), and Heresy against the Church.”

“Lord Commander,” I said.  “We saved your life and those of your comrades.  We got you your freedom.  Surely that counts for something?”

Bentblade dipped his head.  “Indeed it does.  I will consider it strongly when judgement is passed.  Is there anyone else that would speak for this man’s soul?”

At my side Dimitrious stepped forward and cleared his throat.  “I am Friar Dimitrious of the Priory of the Sapphire Eye.”  He opened his cloak and showed his chest, but I could not see it from where I stood.  Whatever the Lord Commander saw there, it seemed to impress him.

My jaw hung open.  He can talk!  All of this time!

“I have been to the Priory of Illuminus and have spent time with the Gospel of the Truth.  I have gazed into the Temple of Time, looking forward rather than back.  This sight has cost me dearly.  I have aged nearly a decade as a price for my arrogance.  My oath of silence was self-imposed – I did not wish to share my shame.

“You see sinners and heretics before you.  That is true.  Under church law, there is no defense for their use of magic.  Fighting these charges is pointless.  These men have an important role to play in the future.  The druid in their ranks, he yet has a role to play in a reconciliation with the Church.  The warlock – he will bring and soothe great pain and suffering. Your brother paladin is more than he seems.”  He turned and locked gazes with me.  “Their ranger will sit on-high one day, if he survives the maelstrom that is looming.

“Great evil has risen with Victor Barristen’s return.  He seeks a member of the Sisterhood of the Sword who can give him the paladins souls trapped in his blade.  If he can consume them, he will be fully restored and blackness will fall upon the world again.  That darkness is coming regardless, but stopping him will slow it down.  Even now, he cowers in the Cloudlands in the northwest where the twilight is eternal, planning to wage war on the living and the bring the church to its knees before him.

“I have seen the great battle that is to be waged.  Punishing these men will make matters worse for all of us.”

“What of this battle?” Sir Bentblade asked.

“It was in a haze of war, but I saw paladins fighting with the Sisterhood of the Sword and these men and your own.  I saw the dead rise.  Minotaurs and heroes of old, fighting together.  Old enemies now allies.  The thunder of hooves and a return of the Gray Wind.  I saw a ruined abbey and raining fire.  Walking graveyards of stone and doom.  Bones and blood and fire all mixed.  And these men, they play a role in all of that.

Bentblade frowned, “Impossible.  The sisterhood is dead.”

“Are they?”  The monk’s words hung in the air.

“Do we win?” the Lord Commander asked warily.

“We did – but we will pay a price that cannot be measured – a cost that cannot be repaid.

“If you imprison or kill Athalus, there will be nothing that can stop what is coming.  It would be better to have them in our service…as a means for them to pay their penance for their transgressions.  Send them to find Lexa Lyoncroft and protect her.  Barristen will come for her, he needs her to release those souls.  She needs him because of what else is in that sword…her past and future.

“Do not doctrine cloud your judgement Lord Commander.  The fate of the world may hang in the balance.”  With that the monk returned to his silence.  I could only stare at him in awe.

Bentblade nodded, then went quiet for a long minute.  “There are mitigating circumstances, namely the saving of the head of this order.  And the friars of the Priory of the Sapphire Eye are incapable of lying.  These charges are set aside.”

“We won?” I asked.

“Of course.  We are no barbarians.  Doctrine required a trial, and a trial was had.  But before you can leave – we need to contact the Church. I want them to sanction you as agents of the Church…then you need to go out after Lyoncroft.”

Gray Riders were summoned with the blast of a horn…and a week later we got our response.  Brandon was delivered a note as well, one that he kept to himself.  A rider was sent out to find Theren.  I composed a message to him to return.  I wondered how the riders could find our druid, but I realized they had that power.

One strange thing though…when the Gray Rider showed up, the horse bowed its head to us. I saw that the rider and the other paladins were as surprised as I was. I wonder what that was about?  Moreover, the words that Dimitrious spoke chilled me still.  There was a war coming…and we were going to be in the middle of it!

 

The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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Review of Netflix’s Conversations With a Killer – The Ted Bundy Tapes

Tedd-Bundy-Tapes-Netflix-900x450

It might not surprise you that when I am writing a true crime book, I usually have true crime going on the TV.  I’m usually not watching it, but I like the background noise.  My usual go-to film is to go to the blu ray of Zodiac.  Having recently watched Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (perhaps the longest title for a series) I was wanting to reacquaint myself with Ted Bundy.  Normally I would have dusted off my copy of A Stranger Beside Me, but I decided to look at the Netflix offering of Conversations With a Killer – The Ted Bundy Tapes.  I fired it up in the background and started to write.

Then I stopped writing to watch – a rarity.  I am pleased to say that this series delivers in new and eerie ways.

This four part series delves into the interviews two authors did with Bundy just prior to his execution.  It is framed against the timeline of his crimes and subsequent trials.  It is well-produced and at times, downright creepy.  In order to get Bundy to talk about his crimes, they convince him to speak in third-person.  So what you get throughout this series is his voice, almost disembodied, talking about what “someone” might have done.  It was brilliant on their part and leaves us with perhaps one of the more disturbing discussions we have been privy to from a notorious serial killer. Bundy’s lack of emotion about anything other than himself does send chills down your spine.

Interlaced throughout this is a lot of footage from TV news about the cases, with the surviving investigators, witnesses and victim weighing in.  It is well edited and the following of the timeline really helps a viewer stay focused and organized during viewing.  I really like watching the period broadcasts…they pull you in.

I was a little surprised that Netflix has hopped onto the Ted Bundy wagon.  Moreover, there are things in this documentary that contradict things in their other series, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. That is to be expected, but it does make you scratch your head a bit…almost as if the programming folks at Netflix were not talking to each other.

Conversations With a Killer is a welcome documentary, a secret pleasure for true crime aficionados and newbies to the genre.