How not to write a poker scene: Max Gladstone, Two Serpents Rise

The goddess leaned over the card table and whispered, “Go all in.”

She hovered before Caleb, cloudy and diaphanous, then cold and clear as desert stars. her body swelled beneath garments of fog: a sea rock where ships dashed to pieces.

This was the very first scene of the book, so Caleb didn’t know what she was the goddess of, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t the one-player-to-a-hand rule.

Caleb tore his gaze away, but could not ignore her scent, or the susurrus of her breath. He groped for his whiskey, found it, drank.

I should really try those Beats headphones, he thought. Though they don’t do anything about the smell.

The cards on the green felt table were night ladies, treacherous and sweet. Two queens rested facedown by his hand, her majesty of cups (blond, voluptuous, pouring blood and water from a chalice), and her majesty of swords (a forbidding Quechal woman with broad face and large eyes, who gripped a severed head by the hair). He did not have to look to know them. They were his old friends, and enemies.

He really should have looked; there was always a chance he misread his hand and really had something far less romantic, like Granny Mae or the Gay Waiter.

His opponents watched: a round Quechal man whose thick neck strained against his bolo tie, a rot-skinned Craftsman, a woman all in black with a cliff’s face, a towering four-armed creature made from silver thorns. How long had they waited?

The other three seats were filled with men somewhere between seventy and four million years old, each with a cup of black coffee. They had all folded preflop.

A few seconds, he thought, a handful of heartbeats. Don’t let them rush you.

Don’t dawdle, either.

Caleb worried about a few-second delay because he was the fastest actor in the history of No-Limit Holdem. This is how you can tell it’s a fantasy novel.

The goddess caressed the inner chambers of his mind. “All in,” she repeated, smiling.

Caleb wondered, not for the first time, how the goddess’ repertoire served her in limit games.

Sorry, he thought, and slid three blue chips into the center of the table.

Life faded from him, and joy, and hope.

Which was strange, because those things usually prevented people from ending up in a No-Limit Holdem cash game in the first place.

A part of his soul flowed into the game, into the goddess. He saw the world through her eyes, energy and form flowering only to wilt.

This pretty much explains Mike Matusow.

“Raise,” he said.

Caleb figured this would confuse his opponents, as he had just bet, it wasn’t his turn, and he wasn’t facing a bet anyway.

She mocked him with a smile, and turned to the next player.

Five cards lay faceup before the dealer. Another queen, of staves, greeted the rising sun in sky-clad silhouette – a great lady, greater still when set beside his pair. To her right the king of swords, grim specter, stood knife in hand beside a struggling crying child bound upon an altar. The other cards struck less dramatic figures, the eight and three of staves, the four of coins.

If everyone’s inner monologue when reading the board was like this, it would explain why games seem unable to achieve twenty hands an hour.

Three queens formed a strong hand, but any two staves could make a flush, and beat him.

However, a field goal won’t do it.

“Call,” said the man in the bolo tie.

“Call,” said the Craftsman with the rotting skin.

Caleb was beginning to think he shouldn’t have underbet the pot so dramatically.

“I see your raise,” said the woman, “and raise you two thousand.” She pushed twenty blue chips into the pot. The goddess whirled, a tornado of desire, calling them all to death.

“String bet,” said the three old men who had folded preflop, in unison, though they had not appeared to be paying attention, and Caleb was pretty sure the one in Seat 6 still had his mouth full of coffee. If Craft ever failed, surely some method of powering the cities of mankind could be wrung from the coordination energy of the common rules nit.

“String bet,” said the dealer a moment later, and pushed seventeen blue chips back to the woman in black. He turned and said “Three hundred to you” to the creature of thorns. The woman mucked her cards out of turn, the creature of thorns folded, and Caleb flipped over his queens to take the pot.

Unfortunately, he was supposed to get bluffed out, so now the rest of the book doesn’t work. Oops. Don’t string bet, kids.

Mill Pipes

May 2, 2012, Minneapolis. Click to embiggen.

May 2, 2012, Minneapolis. Click to embiggen.

I realized I’ve got a bunch of 2012 stuff that never got added to the blog, so that’s going to make it a lot easier to post a photo every day for a while. This is from the ruined portion of Mill City Museum, which was built inside the remains of an old flour mill that burned in 1991. They left this section of the ruins intact as a courtyard.

Bee Silhouettes

Must get back to posting. I’m going to try to get a photo up every day in September. It’s been quite a while since I added anything to Animal Geometries, so here’s some nice bees.

July 20, 2014, Minnesota Zoo. Click to embiggen.

July 20, 2014, Minnesota Zoo. Click to embiggen.

This is one of my favorites from what’s been a slow summer. The zoo had a special giant animatronic bug exhibit this summer, and along with it some actual bugs, including a double-sided glass beehive. Flash on one side, macro lens on the other, and a bunch of other patrons boggling at what I was doing.

The Reader at the Anderson Center

In Mid-June I went down to Red Wing to see a Meg Hutchinson concert. Meg’s my favorite songwriter and has a wonderful poetry book out, so I took down a copy of The Reader: War for the Oaks fresh off the press for her with the intention of asking her to do a reader at some point. Then I got to the venue and it was obvious that would be overcomplicating things.

June 14, 2014. Click to embiggen.

June 14, 2014. Click to embiggen.

The concert hall at The Anderson Center in Red Wing is a remodeled barn, and the best use of knotty pine I’ve ever seen. It’s a gorgeous space, and Meg was kind enough to take a moment after her show to model for me with her book. I think this is going to be one of my favorites from the series.

Olive and Sinclair Mexican Style Cinnamon Chili

OliveSinclairStone ground in Nashville, Tennessee! Well, I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean to me. Nashville isn’t really at the top of my mental list of chocolate-producing areas, or for that matter even on it. I suppose it makes them unique. Perhaps I could find out more if the brown-on-brown design of their website were at all readable.OliveSinclairBack

Anyway, the chocolate. Ingredients are nice and simple, as befits a stone-ground chocolate: Cocoa Beans (Ghana), Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Organic Ceylon Cinnamon, Kosher Salt, Cayenne Pepper. The bar is thin and broad, in nine squares with a rather attractive company logo on them. More importantly, they break apart cleanly and easily. The bar is wrapped in foil, still the best way but unfortunately getting rarer.

OliveSinclairInsideTastewise, this is a mild bar, both in chocolate and in chili. Both exist to complement the real cinnamon, which is deserving of its center-stage role. The cayenne adds just enough kick to keep the cinnamon in the spotlight, while the chocolate just holds them together. It’s not a stunning performance, but it’s reasonably nice, and sometimes reasonably nice is what you’re looking for.

The Reader: War for the Oaks prints and preorders

The Reader: WFTO Kickstarter has finished, but it’s still possible to buy prints from the series and preorder the book.


Click to embiggen.

Larger images and titles can be found at or my portfolio page.

Back cover photo also available, but I foolishly took a prime number of photos.

Back cover photo also available, but I foolishly took a prime number of photos.

Preorder the book for shipping on June 24th or pickup at Fourth Street Fantasy.

The Reader: War for the Oaks: $39.95 + $5 shipping in the US. Contact for international shipping.