Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Reflections from the Road: Dacula Elementary and Mulberry Elementary

This week, I made a return visit to Gwinnett County, Georgia for two school visits. On May 11th, I was a guest of Dacula Elementary School. I previously visited Dacula for an evening appearance at their Scholastic Book Fair. This time, I came back during the day to give three separate Thrones & Bones book presentations to their third, fourth, and fifth classes respectively. It was a great time, and all together I spoke to around 560 students across the three grades. What's more, the students had made some fantastic Thrones & Bones fan art--always a highlight of school visits!

That evening, I was treated to Jim 'N Nicks Bar-B-Q by Media Specialist Paul Carey and his wife Dea, where we had great food and wonderful conversation (everything from Terry Pratchett to Babylon 5.)

Then it was up early on May 12th for my first visit to Mulberry Elementary School, marking what is my 40th school since I began touring with the debut of Frostborn. (If you want to see the full list of my travels, click here.) I did three back to back presentations for their 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classes as well at Mulberry, and had an absolute blast! Thank you very much to Media Specialist Susan Noland for having me in her fine library  and making it such a fantastic visit!

Monday, May 09, 2016

Roleplaying in the World of Thrones and Bones

For the past year or so now, I've been running a role playing game for my son, my nephew, and other boys. We play using the wonderfully customizable Fate Core System rules from Evil Hat. And we play in the world of my Thrones & Bones novels. All the boys have read the books and are well verses in the universe (as, one hopes, is the GM).

We've been playing using the mostly unmodified rules in Fate up until this point, but after we finished our last campaign in November, I've spent my time customizing the rules using some options in the Fate System Toolkit, and the result is something a bit removed from the no-alterations Fate rules. We tried it out last Saturday for the first time. (The differences are mostly in character creation and the use of magic).

Also, for the first time, we played with miniatures and terrain. Fate doesn't require this at all, but I wanted to do something special to fire everyone's imaginations. Initially, I'd planned to use Rainn Studio's utterly magnificent TerraTiles (I have both the Misty Moorlands and the Coast & Rivers sets). And we will use them. But the way this campaign started, the team was supposed to get their marching orders in the elven city of Fair Shadow, a location that is mentioned but not visited in my novel Nightborn. Since I was going to have an amazing terrain set up after they left the city and started their quest, I wanted something to show them when they arrived. I hunted around and I found the incredible Faewood Loft and its expansion set from Heroic Maps. Well, I got a little carried away and ended up printing all the tiles out and gluing them to foam boards. The result was a large battle map of a city in the trees. And having such a large map, I couldn't just use it for five minutes while the characters were given their quest and sent on their merry way. Something obviously had to go down there to justify all this time and effort, right?

So next up, using a female wood elf drawn for me by the incredible Andrew Bosley, and supplementing with some found art, I made my own pawns and populated the city. We added a small number of Paizo's Pathfinder Pawns from the Beginner Box, and we used a ton of Pathfinder Pawn Bases. I picked up some pickle barrels from a craft store (and stained them with paint pens) to add some obstacles to the environment. And, because I saw one and it got me thinking, I picked up a Bunch-o-Butterfies too, because if there's one thing that's better than a crowded market high in the trees in an elven city, it's a crowded market high in the trees in an elven city during the festival surrounding the biannual giant butterfly migration! 

The game went incredibly well, with highlights being when Thurso Greenback, a wulver, ran across a giant butterfly's back to get from one wooden platform to the next, and Blitz Ironfist, a dwarven artificer, blasted across the market using his single-use jetpack. Also, Isha the cat person did some crazy parkour. 

Ironically, we never made it out of the city in this first session, so I still haven't used the gorgeous TerraTiles from Rainn Studios that inspired me to add terrain and miniatures in the first place. They'll have to wait till our next game. Meanwhile, they were represented at the table by the use of their foam risers, which gave some parts of the city more elevation than others. (Q-workshop's awesome dice tower and Paizo's Pathfinder Combat Pad also aided in play).

But we all had a magnificent time. And that's the point, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Reflections from the Road: My Visit with Boy Scouts of America Troop 86

I've spoken to around forty schools since Frostborn debuted, all across America. You can see the list here if you are curious. I've also spoken at a lot of libraries and at literary festivals in addition to science fiction and fantasy conventions. But recently, a new venue for sharing the world of Thrones & Bones has opened up. You see, I'm very fortunate that this month my short story, "Kori and the Troll," is the featured fiction in the May 2016 issue of Boy's Life, the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America. And through that connection, I got invited to speak to Troup 86!

Last night, I spoke to a room full of Boy Scouts. The scouts were from several different schools, but in a room of about twenty scouts, only two had me visit their school before. I presented the world of Thrones & Bones, including a ton of amazing imagery created by artists Justin Gerard, Andrew Bosley, and Robert Lazzaretti. I showed pictures of my research trip to Norway. And I talked about the creation of the Thrones & Bones and Charioteers board games (which feature in the books Frostborn and Nightborn respectively, with rules for each included in the back of their books). Afterwards, I got to sign and rune-stamp books for the scouts.

It was a great time, and I hope I get to talk to other Boy Scout troops in future. Meanwhile, thank you Troop 86 for hosting me!

The Summer Dragon

Happy Book Birthday to Todd Lockwood's The Summer Dragon, the first book of the Evertide. Todd is one of the top illustrators in our field. It's been my privilege to work with him on book covers in the past, and I know firsthand that he is also a tremendous guy. But just because someone excels in one field or is a nice person doesn't mean they are necessarily going to be great at something else. 

t was fortunate enough to be able to read The Summer Dragon in manuscript form last year, and I am happy to say that Todd is also a tremendous writer. This is a great book. The world is richly conceived, with a complex history as well as a confident grasp of the ins-and-outs of the daily life of a dragon breeder. At the same time, the world building is never heavy handed--no info dumping here--but a smooth passage through a fully realized environment. The characters are great--I hope my own daughter will read about Maia's adventures when she is old enough--and the plot exciting.

The whole book is beautifully executed, and if that weren't incentive enough, it's also copiously illustrated by Lockwood himself. You're going to want a hardcover of this because the book itself is an objet d'art. Not to be missed. Go buy it now!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Boy's Life Fiction: "Kori and the Troll"

Huge news!

I have a short story in May 2016 issue of Boys' Life, the official youth publication of the Boy Scouts of America!

"Kori and the Troll" is a story set in the world of my Thrones & Bones novels. In fact, the Kori of the title has a special relationship with one of my two lead characters in Frostborn. I don't write many short stories. I'm very proud of this one, and I'm absolutely thrilled to be in Boy's Life.

Plus, Antonio Javier Caparo provides the art and it's fantastic!

The story is currently behind a subscriber wall, but if you are a scout or have a scout in your life, I hope you'll check it out!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Reflections from the Road: Alabama Library Association 2016 Annual Conference

With my handler Annabelle. Thumbs up!
Last night, I drove to Gadsden, Alabama for the Alabama Library Association 2016 Annual Conference. I was there for the Author Expo, which was held at 210 at the Tracks, an event venue in downtown Gadsden. I got there an hour early so that I could visit Dragon Quills, the local comic and gaming store. Dragon Quills even has a small SF&F book selection, and I was tickled to see some fantasy books I edited on their shelf.

4pm saw a reception for the attending authors, about thirty of us, and then we were paired at booths with an equal number of exhibitors from 5pm to 8pm to mingle with librarians from around the state and sign books. Booksamillion was on hand with copies of Frostborn (in paperback) and Nightborn (in hardcover). I signed lots of books, met tons of wonderful librarians, and nearly sold out of Booksamillion's stock.

Afterwards, I got into an intense discussion with Joshilyn Jackson (The Opposite of Everyone) about Grant Morrison's best work and her peculiar "every other Doctor" preference for actors in Doctor Who (a bit like even numbered Star Trek films).

Thanks to Amanda Jackson, Director of the Gadsden Public Library and Gadsden Museum of Art, everyone at the Alabama Library Association, Booksamillion, and my wonderful handler Annabelle Barrow (check out her design work here).

Monday, April 04, 2016

Reflections from the Road: Altamont and Hilltop

With Spring Break just behind me, I've been remiss about reporting on recent school visits for the Nightborn tour. But last month, I visited both The Altamont School and Hilltop Montessori School. This was my second time speaking to both schools.

On March 15th, I spent a day with students at Altamont. In the morning, I spoke to the entire middle school, then I had lunch in the library with a group of about twenty students. Then, in the afternoon, I drew on my ten years as an art director to give a presentation about how book covers are commissioned, illustrated, designed, and produced to the 5th and 6th grade English classes. It was a fantastic time with some great kids.

Then, on March 23rd, I visited Hilltop Montessori School during their Spring Scholastic Book Fair. I didn't speak this visit, but sat at a table at the end of day signing the Scholastic edition of Frostborn. The school had also purchased several copies of Nightborn for sale to the students, and I'm thrilled to say we nearly sold out of both books.

More school visits coming up later this month! Stay tuned. And if you are a teacher, librarian, or student interested in having me visit your school, see the "For Educators" page of my website for information on how we can make this happen.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Podcast: DM-Nastics 33: By Odin’s Beard!

Today I'm a guest on the Dungeon Master's Block. I join host DM Neal for DM-Nastics 33: By Odin’s Beard!, a short DM-Nastics session in which we discuss a fictional clan inspired by my previous appearances on the podcast and then Neal and I put our heads together and come up with a new clan of our own.  This was a short, fun exercise in world-building. Check it out!