Thursday, August 8, 2013

From Tavern Wench to Mettlefetchers and Beyond!

Alas, the Mettlefetchers Kickstarter campaign died last week with a pathetic little whimper. Collaborator Ahimsa Kerp and I really thought the project would elicit more attention and excitement, particularly with the great press it got from SF Signal and Wendy Wagner at Opera Buffo, but so it goes with crowdsourcing. We accept the judgment of the Internet masses and have shelved the project for now, but fret not—if you were excited about the prospect of an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure style spec-fiction book, rest assured I’ll be revisiting the concept again in the near future. With today’s e-reading technology, it just makes too much sense. Hell, Ahimsa and I explored the CYOA concept all the way back in 2003 with a little magazine called Tavern Wench Journal of Lore.

It all started back in the late 90’s. I was killing time during a summer internship and thought it’d be cool to launch my own fantasy e-zine. To set the tone I was shooting for—edgy, fun, and irreverent—I named the zine Tavern Wench.
I set it up through one of those pop-up heavy free website providers, sent out a call for submissions, and decorated the site with free fantasy clip-art tiled across the background of every page. What few readers the site drew-in got more pixilated dragons and Celtic knots than they ever bargained for, I'm sure. The stories I published at the outset were a bit amateurish as well. By time I started graduate school in late 1999, I decided to put the zine on hiatus.

It wasn’t until 2003 that I was ready to really give the magazine a go again. This time around I took it more seriously, classing up the name a bit by adding the “Journal of Lore” bit, and bringing on-board a great staff: Ahimsa Kerp as assistant editor and staff writer, Chris Turk as art designer, and James Bennett as web designer. We opened the magazine up from just fantasy to all spec-fiction and devised three fictional characters to be hosts of the site: the Wench to host the fantasy section, the Captain to host the SF section, and the Hunchback to host the horror section.

Artwork by Chris Turk
By this time, spec-fic e-zines were a dime a dozen, so we needed something unique to brand ourselves and draw in readers (and by proxy, draw in hi-caliber authors to submit their fiction). I don’t recall whose idea it was, but we decided to write a CYOA story utilizing HTML, and we cast our three fictional hosts as the stars in a uniquely silly, satirical, epic tale. It included all the spec-fic tropes, including aliens, pirates, ninjas, vampires, alchemists, and tentacled monsters. The finalized story, called “A Hard Brew is Hard to Come by,” ended up being a hit, at least to our modest standards, and pulled in more web traffic than the fiction we published from other writers.

Tavern Wench Journal of Lore had a good run for a couple of years—we were listed in Spicy Green Iguana and, published some decent up-and-coming pro authors, and pushed the technological envelope with our own RPG-driven Ragnarok series pitting literary heroes against each other and a video game James Bennett programmed in Flash—but eventually, life got in the way of our little e-zine and we let it go.

There’s not much left of Tavern Wench these days except a few Internet ghosts, like the listing on Preditors & Editors and apparently a Tavern Wench beer stein on CafePress I had completely forgotten about until just now when I did a Google search…. (Holy shit, what if that stein has been selling like hotcakes and I’m a millionaire right now! Okay, maybe not. But still, maybe I should try to figure out what my password is and login, just to make sure…)

Anyhow, beyond leaving us with those Internet vestiges, creating and running Tavern Wench Journal was a great learning experience and it left all of us on the staff with fond memories. The one project I still remember the most fondly, though, is that CYOA adventure story. It was a good idea then and it’s a good idea now.

So yeah, that’s how you know I’ll be revisiting this idea again. In the meantime, in homage to Tavern Wench Journal of Lore, I present to you the opening sequence of “A Good Brew is Hard to Come by.”

A Good Brew is Hard to Come by:
The True Adventures of the Tavern Wench (and Friends)

It began as many other nights have. The usual assortment of die-hard drunks, curious newcomers, and those seeking shelter from the torrential rain gathered in the tavern. The tavern, though large, was manned by a staff of one. The Wench served everyone, everywhere, as though aided by magic. This was a busy night, though, and it took many hours before she managed to take a break.

She joined her two friends, the Captain and the Hunchback, at their usual table, three tankards of ale in hand. The Captain, a tall, large-chinned man with dark wavy hair, was still garbed in his spacesuit. Due to his frequent visits, the regulars of the tavern had become accustomed to his exotic appearance. He had just returned this very day from his latest intergalactic excursion.

His unlikely drinking companion was small and misshapen. A few of the tavern’s seedier patrons recognized him as the local freelance torturer. The only thing fouler than the man’s face was his reputation.

"What are we drinking to, gentlemen?" the Wench asked.

The Hunchback looked up, eyebrow raised, though it should be noted that his eyebrow was always raised so his appearance was essentially unchanged. "Since when do we need something to drink to?"

"Let’s not be uncouth now, my friend," the Captain reprimanded him. "Let us drink to drink planet Xxxxzqzxzqxzqzqqq, the 100th planet I have both discovered and named."

"Why not drink to my hundredth victim?" the Hunchback challenged him. "Today, I finally got the bastard I’ve been working on for weeks to own up to where his secret treasure was hidden."

"Did you let him live?" the Wench asked.

"Don’t be foolish, I take pride in my work, despite what you might think," the Hunchback said.

"Of course you do, my revolting little friend," the Captain said. "While I don’t approve with your line of work, what is important is that you strive for perfection, always give 110%. We shall drink to your 100th victim, my 100th discovery, and…" He turned to the Wench. "And your 100th what?"

The Wench shrugged. "I don’t know, I’ve served at least 100 ales tonight."

"And to your 100th ale served," the Captain continued, raising his tankard.

Each of them met his toast and all three drained their tankards.

"Thank you for the drink, gentlemen," the Wench said as she wiped her mouth clean. "I’ll add the cost to your tab. I’ve got to fetch more ale now; there are a lot of thirsty customers tonight."

"It must be on account of the foul weather," the Captain said. "It’s a dark and dreary night, and I smell evil-doings in the air."

"No, no, that’s just me," the Hunchback replied proudly. "I had haggis for breakfast this morning."

The Wench shook her head in disgust as she turned and left for the storeroom at the back. As she walked through the swinging doors, her heart skipped a beat.

Three swarthy men glared at her interruption. The bright clothing they wore, their hooks for hands, eye patches, and the parrots on their shoulders led her to only one conclusion: pirates!

They had broken the spigots off all of the ale barrels with wooden mallets and the floor was flooded with wasted brew.

"What’s going on here?" the Wench growled. She broke a tankard against the wall, creating a jagged weapon.

One of the pirates looked pointedly with his unpatched eye towards the wall. The Wench followed his glance and with fear saw that he was looking to her framed liquor license. It had taken years to save up enough money to purchase it. She made a break in that direction, but one of the other pirates—the peg-legged one—jumped in front of her with his dagger drawn. He lunged at her and they fell into a heap on the ground. The Wench jammed the broken tankard into his nether regions and then smashed him over the head with it.

By the time she regained her feet, however, the other two intruders had fled and her license was gone.

Her two friends drank on, heedless of her plight, until her scream reverberated throughout the tavern. The two pirates rushed through the crowded room.

The Wench followed closely behind, screaming, "Stop them!"

The Captain leapt to his feet, raygun in hand. He did a triple back flip and while still in the air took aim and fired. The hunchback dove beneath the table, fearing friendly fire.

One pirate had already safely fled into the streets, but the trailing pirate was instantly vaporized as the Captain’s shot hit him right between the shoulder blades.

The Wench stopped at the Captain’s side, breathing heavily.

"What happened?" the Hunchback asked as he ambled up to them and sized up the Wench’s backside.

"They spilt all my ale and stole my liquor license."

"What’s that?" one of the other customers asked. "There’s no ale left?"

The Wench sighed. "I’m afraid it’s true."

The customer turned to his friends, who turned to their friends, and within moments the entire tavern was empty.

"What am I going to do?" the Wench said, looking over the ruined remnants of her tavern.

"I think I can help," the Hunchback said. "I’d bet my gizzard collection that the one who got away was Scallywag the Pirate."

The Wench’s eyes widened in recognition. "But why would he bother me? I’ve done nothing to incite any pirate’s wrath. In fact, I have Walk-the-Plank-Wednesdays where pirates get two-for-one piƱa coladas."

"Why don’t you just buy another liquor license?" the Captain asked.

"You don’t understand," the Wench replied. "It took me years to save up enough money to buy that liquor license. Even if I could afford more ale, the King would lock me up for selling it."

"No need to worry, Wench," the Captain said. "We shall retrieve your liquor license and avenge ourselves upon the brigands who stole it."

"Would you really do that for me?" the Wench asked.

The Captain patted her comfortingly on the shoulder. "Anything to aid a damsel in distress."

"Speak for yourself," the Hunchback said. "I already have plans for the night."

"If you help me I’ll wipe both of your tabs clean," the Wench pleaded.

"To erase my tab I would gladly do you…this favor," the Hunchback leered.

"Let’s be off then!" the Captain said, brandishing his raygun.

"Yes," the Hunchback agreed. "I know where Scallywag’s haunts are. Let’s make for the harbor."

They rushed out the door and within a few minutes they had reached the docks.

"Where to first?" the Wench asked, eyeing the dark rows of ships dubiously. "Why don’t we head to the local tavern and ask some questions."

"Look, we have already arrived at the docks," the Captain pointed out. "I can board a ship and rough up a few miscreants—we’ll soon find this Scallywag."

"No, no, we’ll not find him there," the Hunchback disagreed. "I know his secret haunts."

"Why don’t we just split up?" the Wench suggested. "We can cover three times as much ground that way."

"You mean two and half times the ground, don’t you?" the Captain amended with a chuckle and a glance at the Hunchback.


-Garrett Calcaterra

No comments:

Post a Comment