Author Archives: Mark Hill

Mark’s Writing Tips

Aspiring writers looking for tips online often come across contradictory and confusing advice. I hope to cut through this morass of information by offering simple, common sense ideas that no one will ever contradict, declare useless or consider pretentious. I hope these help, and remember—always keep writing!

Write precisely 1,287 words every day between 7:23 am and 9:41 am.

Never use adverbs. Use adjectives sparingly. Nouns should only appear once every 4.8 sentences. Semi-colons are mythical.

A character should only say, ask or expunge dialogue.

No character should be named Steven. If you’re writing a work of non-fiction about a real person named Steven, change their name to Bartholomew.

Keep your computer on but your monitor off.

It’s key to have a keyboard. It’s only nice to have mice.

Eat spiders to gain their cunning.

Don’t do anything Jonathan Franzen says, even if he’s telling you to take cover. That little fuck isn’t the boss of you.

If you’re having trouble finding motivation, get cancer.

Always listen to whale sounds, unless you’re writing about whales. Then listen to jazz.

Maybe write a mystery? Those seem to be selling alright lately.

Remember to tell yourself that writing is a window into your soul as you spend 15 minutes deciding whether or not to italicise a word that will inevitably be cut later.

Never eat tapioca.

Dad Jokes, As Told By a Dad in a Midlife Crisis

I stayed up all night wondering where the sun went. I also wondered what happened to the man who would stay up all night just because he could, because he wasn’t weighed down by responsibilities and obligations and because dammit, he was alive. Then it dawned on me. I’m growing old, and there’s no getting around that fact. But maybe I’ll chase the dawn tonight, put aside my duties just for a little while and remind myself that, even if you strip away my career and family, I’m still a man. Will this reminder give me the vigor I need to accept the early nights to come, or will it make me loathe them even more? There’s only one way to find out. Guess I better make some coffee.

What’s the difference between a piano and a tuna? Not much to me. I certainly can’t play the piano or catch a fish anymore either, not with these arthritic hands. When I was your age I could spend a weekend in the wilderness and come back with enough food to feed the family for a week. Now there are days where I struggle to make toast. Will you come make meals for me, when it gets worse? Or will you abandon me to the ravages of time, unable to confront your inevitable fate and the fate of a father you once thought stronger than 10 men? As you ponder that, just remember that no matter how old you get, you can tune a piano… but you can’t tuna fish.

Do you file your nails? Really? I just throw mine away, into the trash with everything else I’ve thrown away in life. My ambition, my health, my passion for the little things. Not all at once, mind you. An old friend’s phone number because I’m convinced he wouldn’t want to get in touch after all this time here, a novel outline I’ve stared at for years before convincing myself that it will never be as good as I see it in my head there. The fingernail clippings of life, piling up one by one. Unnoticeable at first, little white flecks against the white plastic bag I use to line the trash can. But they pile up, one by one, until there comes a day when they’re overflowing. Nail clippings can be vacuumed up, and the bag taken out to the garbage. But there’s no vacuum for regrets, and no garbage either. Not unless you count the grave.

I got a haircut. I got a shave too, and as the razor passed my throat I thought about lunging forward and sparing myself the parade of indignities that comes with old age. Better to go out a man than a senile old coot yammering misremembered stories to a pitying audience like my father. But by the time the thought came to me the blade was already gone, and maybe that’s for the best. Now’s not the time. I still have too much to accomplish. There’s still too much… I got all my other hairs cut, too. Getting one cut would just be silly.

I told my wife she drew her eyebrows too high. She cried, and through her tears she said “The first thing you’ve said about my appearance in months, and it’s an insult?” I sat down next to her on the faded couch we bought when we first moved into this house all those years ago and hovered my hand over her shoulder, uncertain if she would pull away if I tried to draw her in. I wondered if I should tell her that I still find her beautiful, and that I wish I could tell her that every day, but that ever since I discovered the affair the words turn to ash in my throat. I want to kiss you, Maryanne, but how can I when every time your lips draw near I imagine Albert’s rough mouth on them? How can I, when those same lips moved to tell me that you haven’t spoken to your old friend Albert in over a year when I asked how he’s doing? I know it’s as much my fault as yours. The long nights, the emotional distance, the little things around the house… but dammit, Maryanne, if you had only said something I would have changed. That’s what really hurts, that you didn’t even ask. If I had tried and failed, I could live with your infidelity. But to not even be given the chance to try… The words pour out of me before I can stop myself, more intimacy between us in this moment than there’s been in God knows how long. She looked surprised. And I surprised myself.

Clickbait Headlines of the Distant Future

People Take One Look At Him And Assume He’s From Planetary Settlement Alpha Romeo 27-X-9. But He’s Actually From Lunar Settlement Hotel Zulu 19-Q-4.

17 Heart-Warming Cybernetic Body Implants That Will Restore Your Faith In Transhumanity.

His Brain Is Made Of Plastic. But His Heart Is Made Of Gold.

33 Stuffed Animals Simulating Positions Historians Say “Pet Owners” Of The 21st Century Found Adorable.

These People Dismissed Beth As A “Mere” Artificial Intelligence. Then They Heard Her Play The Violin, While Also Playing The Piano And Theremin And Writing A Mystery Novel And Analysing The Galactic Economy And Scanning Observers For Any Medical Abnormalities Or Criminal Backgrounds That Should Be Reported To The Overseers.

He Was Built To Terminate Life. What He’s Terminating Is Prejudice.

18 Spaceships We Can’t Believe They Terraformed And Colonised Venus With.

Ranking The 2 Female Presidents Of The United States.

Thoughts I’m Having As I Approach my 27th Birthday, Compared to the Thoughts My Teenage Self Assumed I Would Be Having

Thoughts My Teenage Self Assumed I Would Be Having

Should I save time by having the help polish my Booker Prize, or would doing it myself allow me precious moments to reflect on both my past and my future?

When I emerge from my mysterious period of reclusiveness, which publication should I give an exclusive interview to?

Do I want to die tragically young at the height of great success, or become an elderly and respected national treasure?

How impressive is my video game collection?

Would it be more dramatic if I cheated on my supermodel wife in a scandalous public affair or kept it private to reveal in a memoir decades later?

Thoughts I Am Actually Having

At what point does it become sad that I only know like six recipes?

Is my nose hair getting longer, or am I just growing more of it?

Why, as a professional writer, does it still take me three tries to spell “necessary”?

Oh God, how impressive is my video game collection?

When I die alone will my cats eat me, or will animal protection services already have taken them away?

Excerpts From F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tinder is the Night

“Actually that’s my secret — I can’t even talk about you to anybody because I don’t want any more people to know that our first date was at a club and you threw up on my shirt, and then when I took it off you started masturbating.”

Cloaked by the erotic darkness she exhausted the future quickly, with all the eventualities that might lead up to a kiss, but the bitch didn’t blow him even after he paid for drinks and pumped his sick guns.

Her love had reached a point where now at last she was beginning to be unhappy, to be desperate. So he dumped her and swiped a few girl who are way hotter anyway, and I mean just look at this one, bro, you know a chick who poses like that will let you do anal.

Dick tried to plunge over the Alpine crevasse between the sexes. Heh.

He used to think that he wanted to be good, he wanted to be kind, he wanted to be brave and wise, but it was all pretty difficult. He wanted to score some tight pussy, too, if he could fit it in between hitting the gym with his bros.

There is something awe-inspiring in one who has lost all inhibitions, who will do anything. If you know what I mean.

They talked aimlessly back and forth, each speaking for the other. That’s what happens after you do a shitton of Jagerbombs in a row.

“Think how you love me,” she whispered. “I don’t ask you to love me always like this, but I ask you to remember. Somewhere inside me there’ll always be the person I am to-night.”

“Yeah, and somewhere inside you to-night there’ll be my dick. Whoo!”

“Someday I’m going to find somebody and love him and love him and never let him go.”

“Yeesh,” thought Dick. “I’m not swiping that stalker. Dick Diver never sticks it in crazy, that’s what my father taught me.”

He desired her and, so far as her virginal emotions went, she contemplated a surrender with equanimity. Yet she knew she would forget him half an hour after she left him – like an actor kissed in a picture. She had been texting another boy who was way cuter and claimed to own a yacht, which was pretty cool, even if ‘owned’ probably meant it belonged to his wealthy uncle and he could borrow it once every few months.

He was in love with every pretty woman he saw now, their forms at a distance, their shadows on the walls. But none of them swiped him, so he had to content himself with nights spent on PornHub.

She was about twenty-four – her face could have been described in terms of conventional prettiness, but the effect was that it had been made first on the heroic scale with strong structure and marking, as if the features and vividness of brow and coloring, everything we associate with temperament and character had been molded with a Rodinesque intention, and uggggh, just tap her ugly ass and move on already, man.

Like so many men he had found that he had only one or two moves – that his little collection of compliments and dance moves contained the germ of all he would ever think or know about dating.

Her hair, drawn back off her ears, brushed her shoulders in such a way that the face seemed to have just emerged from it, as if this were the exact moment when she was coming from a wood into clear moonlight. The unknown yielded her up; Dick wished she had no background, that she was just a girl lost with no address save the night from which she had come. Because that’s where he was going to send her back to once he got some.

“You once liked me, didn’t you?” he asked.

“Liked you – I loved you. Everybody loved you. You could’ve had anybody you wanted for the asking. But now you’ve stopped exercising and you got that weird shoulder tattoo, so it’s like eh, I think I could do better.”

The voice fell low, sank into her breast and stretched the tight bodice over her heart as she came up close. He felt the young lips, her body sighing in relief against the arm growing stronger to hold her. There were now no more plans than if Dick had arbitrarily made some indissoluble mixture, with atoms joined and inseparable; you could throw it all out but never again could they fit back into atomic scale. As he held her and tasted her, and as she curved in further and further toward him, with her own lips, new to herself, drowned and engulfed in love, yet solaced and triumphant, he was thankful to have an existence at all, if only as a reflection in her wet eyes. He texted her a couple days later, but she had met some guy named Chet.

“You’re the only girl I’ve seen for a long time that actually did look like something blooming.”

“lol r u gay?”

Adult Horror Movie Twists

The call is coming from inside the house! It’s your mother, and she’s disappointed in your life decisions.

After a long and tortuous battle, the villain is vanquished. You go to bed, thinking you’re safe at last. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, regrets about your last relationship hit you.

The perpetrator was the twin you never knew you had. They’re happily married, own a nice house and keep asking when you’ll settle down.

The hillbilly family that you thought were harmless eccentrics turned out to be cannibals. Also, despite how much you mock and shun their simple lifestyle, they are clearly much happier than you.

The imaginary monster you feared as a child becomes real and hunts you down as an adult. It’s massively underwhelming compared to your current fears.

The dead rise from the grave to inform you that you’re squandering the wealth and resources they left you.

After an unspecified apocalypse reduces humanity to scattered groups of desperate survivors clinging together both for survival and to fulfill the simple emotional need of human contact, you discover that people still don’t want to hang out with you.

Dialogue From Parent Date Nights, As Imagined By Offspring Unable to Cope With the Reality of the Situation

“That casserole was delicious, dear. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Whatever shall we do now? We have the house to ourselves…”

“This sounds like the perfect opportunity for me to re-caulk the bathtub.”

“Wonderful. I’ll go fall asleep in front of Law and Order.

“Would you like me to wake you up and take you to bed?”

“No, the couch is comfortable.”

“Well, good night then.”

“See you in the morning!”

“My back is so sore. I think I’ll take a nice, hot shower to relax. Would you care to join me?”

“No, thank you. I need to finish filing our taxes.”

“I appreciate your dedication to our family’s fiscal responsibilities.”

“It’s how I express my love for you.”

“Sweetie, come check out my new lingerie.”

“Is that full body flannel? Nice.”

“Wal-Mart had it on sale. It’s so comfortable I think I could spend all day in bed.”

“Oh? Maybe I’ll join you…”

“Don’t have you to aerate the lawn?”

“Oh, that’s right. Thank you for reminding me.”

“Come back to the bedroom when you’re all hot and sweaty from working, and maybe I’ll have a surprise for you.”

“The new slippers you’re knitting for me?”

“Shh! Don’t ruin it!”

“Would you like a glass of wine with your dinner?”

“No, thank you. Wine lowers my inhibitions and mental capability, which I’ll need for my Sudoku puzzles.”

“I suppose I shouldn’t partake either, since I plan to watch a documentary about Erwin Rommel and don’t want to miss any details.”

“Warm glasses of milk for the both of us, then?”

“Yes, please.”

“This reminds me of our third date.”

“When our parents dropped us off at church?”

“Yes. The pastor watched over our prayers, and after we were done we shook hands and agreed that it wouldn’t be objectionable if we continued to spend time in each other’s presence.”

“Those were the days.”

“Let’s spend an hour in the bedroom.”

“That sounds wonderful. You can change the sheets and dust while I oil the squeaky wardrobe door.”

“Don’t forget to wear especially unattractive clothes, so you won’t have to take them off and launder them if you spill.”

“Good idea, thank you.”

“And maybe I’ll wear my French maid costume from last Halloween.”

“That’s silly. Why would you do that?”

“I have no idea. Never mind, I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Well, don’t worry about it.”

“Honey, when’s the last time you had an erection?”

“I don’t even know what that is.”

“Nor do I. I overheard Jim and his friends talking about them. It must be some new teenage fad.”

“Well, as middle-aged adults there’s no sense in us getting involved in that malarkey.”

“Agreed. Let’s do a jigsaw puzzle.”

Opening Lines From My Rejected Letters to Literary Agents

Lydia had a problem. The problem was that she was dead.

Imagine that you’re standing in a vast desert, with no sign of civilisation for miles. Imagine that there are dinosaurs behind you. Imagine that they’re hungry. That’s the situation Bill found himself in. Except he wasn’t imagining.

He was a goblin. She was a robot. Need I say more?

James never thought that he’d live such an extraordinary life. But then he’d never thought that he was the ancestor of a secret tryst between Mary Todd and John Wilkes Booth, either.

Alex didn’t like explosions. But explosions sure liked him!

Janie never wanted to fall in love with a vampire. So she didn’t.

Nancy was the best race car driver the world had ever seen. But she wasn’t on the world anymore.

Please just buy my book, it’s amazing I swear and I have kids to feed and oh God I’m desperate please look into your heart and find a little mercy for a staving, struggling writer, it’s a teen dystopia those are so hot right now so you can’t go wrong, it has the love triangle and everything it will sell itself just give it a chance and you won’t regret it I swear

Zombies! Holy shit, so many zombies!

Simple Life Hacks You Can Use Right Now!

No good references on your resume? Most homeless people will lie for you if you promise them cash or drugs!

Trying to trim your food budget while unemployed? Stealing from grocery stores can save you tons of money.

Are all of your computer and television cords getting tangled up? Organise some of that clutter and save on another bill by stealing your neighbour’s cable and wi-fi!

Does your roommate have nice stuff that you can’t afford anymore? Does he lord it over you while lecturing you on the immortality of theft? Kill him and take all his shit!

In a rush to dispose of a body? Illegal immigrants will dig holes for you without asking questions!

Need cash fast to pay a legal bill? Stick a shotgun in a convenience store employee’s face and they’ll give you hundreds of dollars for minutes of work!

Are shotguns illegal where you live? Just tie several pistols together and put all the triggers on a string!

Do the police want to search your home? Faking a heart attack and an inability to speak English will distract them!

Does it look like the jury is against you? You’d be surprised by how far a little bribe can go!

Not a fan of prison bathrooms? If nobody’s looking you can pee anywhere.

Mark’s Objectively Neutral Video Game Reviews: Bravely Default

Please note that this review discusses major plot points. In order to keep things as spoiler-free as possible, plot points will be referred to in vague terms, and all characters will be renamed Charles.

Bravely Default is one of the finest JRPGs released in recent memory. With a single game, Square-Enix cut through all the bloat that’s weighed the Final Fantasy franchise down in mediocrity for the better part of a decade. The job system is deep, the combat is sublime, the characters are engaging and the story has the feel of a classic, old-school adventure to just get out there and save the goddamn world. It is, without hyperbole, a masterpiece.

Then the second half of the game begins.

The back half of Bravely Default is a Sisyphian endurance test, if Sisyphus occasionally had to stop and grind for levels. Square-Enix boldly decided to recreate the characters’ suspicions that they’re caught in a repetitive, endless loop by making the player feel the exact same horrid emotions. Each of the game’s four major bosses must be fought five times each, because if there’s one thing that gamers hate it’s experiencing new content. To be fair, Square-Enix does its best to avoid repetition by giving the bosses radical new traits for each fight, such as “more health” or “slightly different attack pattern.”

But you’re not simply defeating the same bosses that you’ve already proven yourself capable of besting several times over—you’re also listening to repetitive dialogue so lazy that characters are shocked by basic concepts that they’ve had previously explained to them on multiple occasions. During this stage of the game, it is helpful to imagine that your heroes have been stricken with the obscure status condition of short term memory failure.

Some conversations do move the plot forward, in the sense that the snail crawling through your garden is moving closer to a vacation in the Galapagos. Charles begins to suspect that Charles has not been entirely honest about their quest or the extent of Charles’ knowledge. And Charles begins to recover his memory, to the point where he first suspects that Charles is not working towards their best intentions, and then fully recalls that Charles does indeed have an ulterior motive.

Faced with this profound, life-changing knowledge, Charles heroically does nothing and allows Charles to continue with his plan unabated. Perhaps Charles, like the gamer, has simply been numbed into a state of catatonic half-life by the sheer repetitiveness of his assigned mission. To challenge Charles would be to challenge the only life he has ever known, for Charles’ memory of a time when he acted differently must be as hazy as the gamer’s memory of when Bravely Default was more fun than staring at an unusually dull wall for hours on end.

By this point in the game you will have likely developed several battle tactics that appear to break the combat system, such as the ability to apply a sword master’s lifetime of nuanced training in the subtle art of the katana to the art of a pirate hitting things in the head with a large ax over and over again until said thing is deceased. The bosses you have already proven your mastery of will fall like flies before you, if to swat flies you had to spend five minutes travelling to one’s location and 10 minutes swatting it over and over again without any fear of failure before it finally perishes.

The revelation that the seemingly inconsequential Charles is actually Charles, a servant of Charles, therefore comes as a blessed relief rather than a shock, both because it signals the endgame and the faintest glimmer of hope for a new experience, and because any gamer that could best a tomato on an intelligence test will have predicted the heavily foreshadowed yet agonisingly drawn out plot “twist” that Charles inexplicably failed to act on his foreknowledge of, perhaps feeling that he would simply follow Charles, a mysterious character who refused to explain who or what they were, got angry whenever anyone asked reasonable questions or expressed even a modicum of doubt about their clearly flawed plan, and see how that played out.

You defeat Charles using the same cheap and dull yet staggeringly effective strategy that got you this far, only for Charles to take a second form and wipe the floor with your party faster than Superman on cleaning day, because even after you are roused from your stupor and recognise the fact that Bravely Default has enacted a true plot twist by becoming a real video game again, your use of what you distantly recall is referred to as “strategy” is useless in the face of the fact that Charles produces really big numbers.

You are then reminded of the fact that JRPGs are essentially consensual hallucinations intended to disguise the fact that you are making your numbers become larger numbers until they are larger than the numbers produced by the computer, and that your entire video game role-playing history has essentially been one large Skinner box gussied up in pretty paint and an amusing story like some cheap whore.

You’ll put this revelation aside, because you’re already upset that one game has wasted time you could have spent becoming a more well-rounded person or being with your loved ones and don’t wish to confront the fact that your entire beloved pastime may be an elaborate lie designed to make you complacent, in an eerie parallel of Charles’ elaborate lie that makes your party complacent in a grand scheme to destroy time as we know it, because your so-called heroes are incapable of critical thought or even idly wondering why the supposed villains they were defeating earlier kept warning them that they were going to doom the world, which is a further parallel to how your parents once told you that you should go do something productive with your life instead of destroying it by playing so many video games. You will instead focus on grinding to make your party stronger, because you’re not going to let a game you no longer enjoy beat you, because you don’t understand the concept of a sunk cost.

Unfortunately, the game has now locked you into a set narrative path that prevents you from visiting areas that made grinding a relatively painless affair. To compensate for this problem, the game allows you access to the bowels of your airship, an early dungeon you had to clear of monsters so you could take to the skies, yet somehow still remains heavily populated by rambling hordes of monsters because there’s apparently nothing amiss about allowing creatures whose sole purpose in life is destruction to wander through the mechanically sensitive areas of a vessel so large and complex that no one actually knows how it works yet is happy to fly around in it.

So your enter the engine room and begin slaying hundreds upon hundreds of monsters in exchange for piffling amounts of experience, all the while accompanied by Charles who, in this alternate timeline you have established, has yet to reveal himself as a master manipulator and sees nothing odd about the fact that you’re postponing the rapturous experience of gazing upon a world you believe you’ve just made whole so you can deal with an engine room monster problem you’ve ignored as inconsequential for an extended length of time, an errand that is, in what must be an utter coincidence, making you stronger and more capable of defeating Charles.

After what feels like eons thanks to your general frustration with the fact that you’ve spent half of the game’s 40 hours wallowing in abject tedium, you will gain access to a skill that allows you to obliterate weak monsters as soon as the battle begins, essentially eliminating the entire concept of Bravely Default being a game and replacing it with the experience of being responsible for making numbers increase by spinning in circles until a fight with a foregone conclusion begins, a responsibility that could be assigned to a small child, or a carefully arranged bobbing bird toy.

Eventually you will also raise enough money to buy an accessory that increases the rate at which you gain experience. This, combined with the ability that transforms Bravely Default from a video game into a spreadsheet with a nice soundtrack, is essentially an admission by the developers that you can set your character’s strength to whatever you’d like, and the only difference between their system and hacking the game is that they will make you sink time into the endeavour in a transparent attempt to maintain the flimsy mutual claim that you are indeed still playing a video game.

Once you’ve defeated enough of your ship’s infinite supply of inexplicably wealthy engine monsters to ensure that your party produces sufficiently large numbers and does not receive sufficiently large numbers in return, you will have the capability to defeat the evil and duplicitous yet exceedingly polite and unsuspecting Charles, providing you can blink away your disbelief that Charles does not immediately vanish from existence like the countless monsters you’ve just defeated, dredge up the vague recollection that the light, sound and numbers box you hold in your hands once contained a video game, and recreate the tactic you once so naively dismissed as cheap and unfair yet now seems like an elaborate game of Go in comparison to the Kafkaesque nightmare you have just endured.

With Charles defeated you can confront the final boss, which is the question of whether it is worth proceeding to the end of a 50 hour game that, if you’re feeling generous, you can claim to have enjoyed half of, and that half is but a distant blurred memory of battles and characters that used to be entertaining before the all-encompassing darkness of the grind within a grind settled in and destroyed any joyful emotions you may have once held. Perhaps the final dungeon will lift the darkness and restore your faith in both Bravely Default and the medium of gaming as a whole, or perhaps it will simply twist the proverbial screw and turn the grind within a grind into a grind within a grind within a grind, or perhaps a grind within a grind within a grind within a grind, where the greatest grind of all is the one you make in your daily life to wade through this virtual nightmare by sacrificing any hope you once held of living a happy and fulfilling life. This question is the ultimate gamble, and neither this review nor any other can help you answer it. The choice is yours and yours alone, and in making your choice you will finally understand the meaning of the game’s seemingly nonsensical title. Will you be brave, or will you default, the game asks, indicating that the developers were well aware of what a miserable odyssey they had spawned all along.

With all of this in mind, I give Bravely Default seven out of 10.