Monday, September 02, 2019

GenCon the Third, Part Only

Best decision this year for GenCon was to pre-order the sack lunch from St Elmo for Thursday. Two filet mignon sliders, house cooked potato chips and a triangle brownie. Quick pickup, no long lines like at the food trucks. Ate in the shade a block up from the convention center. The horse radish sauce was the coup de grace.

Two Autographs: Heath Robinson of Infinite Black on his photo in the GenCon program, and Cherie Priest, Author Guest of Honor on her book "Four and Twenty Blackbirds".

Worst Time to Host a Game: Thursday morning. Hundreds, maybe thousands of con goers were still in the Will Call line, not a lot of gamers in the playing hall. I had no one for my 11:00 am session of Throw Down Seven.

Good Hosting: Four folks came and played Throw Down Seven on Friday afternoon at three. They were dice lovers, so were perfect for this. They had each bought a set of dice in the exhibit hall and used their own to play. They emailed me later to say they had played again at dinner.

In the Booth: Throw Down Seven from ChipsterzoneGames was for sale in the Indie Game Alliance booth.

Pricey but Convenient: The Holiday Inn Express was quite nice, with a full hot breakfast and is far from the most expensive hotel within a couple blocks of the Convention Center, but at over $200 a night, it's still much more than I'm comfortable paying for a hotel room. They handled the crowd well.

Overwhelming: The exhibit hall was huge and packed with people the entire time. Nice to be with the bustle, but would have been nice to have more elbow room.

Top Technical Innovation: Dice, physical dice, that know what they roll, and tell your software. These are way cool, though still under development:

Gorgeous Game: "Parks" designed by Henry Audubon and will be published by Keymaster Games in October.

Sold Out! But I played them: "Klask" is a bit like miniature knock-hockey with magnet-limited sticks. And "Point Salad" is a card drafting game with vegetables on the cards. Odd, but kind of fun.

Schlock Mercenary, Weird Giraffes, and Infinite Black in the exhibit hall: Pleased to talk shop briefly with Howard Tayler in his booth and said "hey" to fellow Alabama game producers in a couple other booths.

Only Three: seminars I attended this time. The writing track was still big, but I recognized fewer of the authors. I only went to a Revisions panel there, other talks were from Panda Games and on Script Writing (in the film track).

Script Writing: Thomas DeCarlo, from Bloomington (where we spent Wednesday night pre-con, about an hour out from Indy), he does animation; Kylie Eaton, "Dispel", Writer/Director; May (somebody), Australian comedienne/actress/writer; Timothy Tray, ABBY; Dan McGuire, ABBY

Writing is solitary, directing is social.
Fit your script to time/budget: 3 locations, 2 speaking parts, 4 days to shoot -- if really going to film it
Script Notes Podcast #403 recommended (w Craig Mazin and John August)
Recommended books: Screen Play by Syd Field and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.
Hook in the first couple pages
Write for visualization (setting or character come first)
E.g. describe a person sitting quietly reading, then describe the chaos around them
Use cards, one scene per card, can rearrange them easily
"If you watch a movie w/no sound you should get 80% of it" - Alfred Hitchcock
Outline in Word, or Final Draft
Find screenplays on line, e.g. Aliens (try
Costly, worth it ?:
Know what you're writing for: spec? Go big! short film to shoot with friends, or for demo? time/budget/locale
Accept that a script is a living document, will be interpreted, re-written, etc.
Only write what can be seen and heard -- tough to script smell, touch
Don't give direction, but help the cast/crew: "sitting alone weeping in a bathtub" and not "he felt sad"

Game Manufacturing presented by Panda Games.
Online quote system -- get an idea of costs, even if you don't go with them as manufacturer
Can Kickstart, or not.
50% of per game cost + 100% of tooling costs up front
Good to know things like what needs to maintain hidden info, e.g. matching card backs
Cards per sheet (so target that number): 54 black jack size, 62 Taro size
Chinese holidays will impact schedule
Put a blurb on the quote to indicate intent of game, gives the project some context
PPC article is a hand crafted one off (Prototype Proof of Concept?)
MPC is first game off production
Suggestion: work with an experienced graphic designer (and fulfillment partner)
Adult Hobby Market: 14+ age designation avoids some safety testing
Panda shipping is extra, does not do fulfillment
Tariff issues are unknown.
1500 game minimum, 2500-5000 is more the sweet spot.

Panda Prepping for Printing
Suggest to use a graphic designer or layout specialist with experience in print media
Need your own UPC # (resale ones are fine for hobby market)
Black text should be pure black
Panda has templates on their website
Use Preflight Profile in Acrobat
(I really liked the folks from Panda, they were down to earth and clearly enjoy their work of bringing new games into the world.)

Revisions Panel, Writing Seminar
John Helfers, Editor; Howard Andrew Jones, Author; Cerece Rennie Murphy, Author
Finish the first draft!
Cerece kind of stole the show, an attractive 30-something African American, she introduced herself as a children's author, then proceeded to drop sporadic F-bombs.
Check the distance between what you wrote and what you thought you wrote
Read it out loud. Try read aloud mode from MS Word. (I tried letting Word read some, not bad.)
Read it out of order. Maybe one character's POV at a time, or last section of a chapter and back by sections.
Know what each character needs from each scene, what their emotional state is.
Does the plot work?
Make sure if your character goes after some big magical item that it gets used (Ahem, HBO Game of Thrones)
Everything should serve a point (to keep readers turning pages) -- advance plot; advance character.
Good to use others to review: developmental editor, copy editor, proof reader.
Dr. McCoy Test: "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer."
Recommended: Steve Pressfield "The War of Art"
Also: Save the Cat, same as from the Script Writing Panel

Too Big?: Once again I enjoyed GenCon, but since I wasn't focused on the sideshow that is the writing seminar I was more immersed in the larger show and it was a bit overwhelming. And crowded. But getting to play hot, pre-release games, and talk to a lot of friendly people, both ones trying to sell me something and those just doing what they love, is a good time.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Cooking for One, Part 5: Spring Pasta

This is a simple dish, good for Spring: Pasta Primavera. I think of it like eating spaghetti but with vegetables instead of red sauce. The essential ingredient is the grated Parmesan cheese on top. For this I use regular, finely grated Kraft, not something fancy with longer gratings, though you may like that. For me it's a texture thing. That's also why I prefer regular spaghetti noodles rather than spirals or shells or something:

 I usually cut the noodles into pieces two to four inches long after cooking, this helps with getting both noodles and veggies on your fork at the same time. For vegetables I use a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, ones without lima beans (again, its a texture thing) and with corn (that's a sweetness thing). In this case Greenwise, the organic brand from Publix. They microwave right in the bag. I keep them separate from the pasta and Parmesan cheese until ready to eat, just like you would traditional spaghetti. Then I layer them: pasta, veggies, and enough grated Parmesan to make it look like there's been a snowfall. No butter or anything needed, so pretty healthy, too. I usually pair it with some (less healthy) garlic bread. I've been partial to the Paisano bread from Whole Foods lately. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Cooking for One, Part Four: I Do Slaw

I've been enjoyed Gouda cheese slices lately, not smoked. It has an earthy flavor. Sargento has been fine, but this week it was Cracker Barrel brand on sale and they don't offer Gouda. I settled on Asiago slices. It's got a bit more barn than earth, but still worked well on my Corned Beef Bomber sandwich, that's toasted deli rye bread with stacked, thinly sliced corned beef, cheese and coleslaw:

With St. Patrick's Day still large in the rear view mirror I had thought about buying a slab of corned beef and crockpotting up a batch with cabbage, but it was just going to make way too much. Publix also had fresh cut corned beef discounted at the deli, so I bought that. But to make a proper bomber I'd need coleslaw and I wanted to make something myself. The heads of cabbage were big and I know I weary of green cabbage quickly. I pondered the contents of my refrigerator and decided to try a carrot based slaw. It became the star of the meal, and two bouts of leftovers. Here's what all you need to do:

Peel and grate 3 or 4 carrots
Peel and grate a chunk of broccoli stem
Grate 2 or 3 good sized cherry bell radishes

Sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar on the grated veggies, mix

In a small sauce pan place:
  3/4 tablespoons of olive oil
  2 tablespoons of rice (or similar) vinegar
  a couple shakes of dry mustard
  a few shakes of black pepper

Bring these to a boil, then pour this hot dressing over the veggies, stir, and refrigerate for a half hour or more (you can also eat it now if your sandwich is ready)


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Games without Dice

There's another sort of game that I like to play, one that doesn't involve dice, but where objects are also rolled on a table often covered with green felt: pool, or billiards so as not to be confused with lounging in and around a concrete depression filled with chlorinated water. That can be fun, too, but I'm referring here, in the context of Chipsterzone Games, to parlor pastimes.

I've played a fair bit of 8-ball, and also of Cut-throat over the years. Much of my 8-ball was played a good while back, during college breaks at bars on coin-operated pool tables. I was never particularly good, but perhaps understandably I got a wee better after one drink, let me get out of my head so much, I suppose. My friend, let's call him Tim (since that is his name), got worse at pool with the first drink, but better at Space Invaders, the video game. I got only worse at video games with alcohol. Ah, comraderic competition!

But even at its best my 8-ball wasn't very good. When we moved to Raleigh, NC during high school however the house my parents bought came with a full-size, heavy slate pool table in the basement. My father soon introduced me to an entirely different sort of pool game that they played at the Marine Corps Reserve Center on their lunch breaks (and I'm guessing any other time that things got slow).

They called it simply "Pocket Billiards" and the main object, rather than to shoot balls into the pockets as in most games played on a pool table, was to make "billiards" to score points. That is, players try to make a stroke in which the cue ball strikes two other balls. This is wonderfully difficult, especially at first. It becomes somewhat less difficult as the player understands how, and when, to put various kinds of English, or spin, on the cue ball. Of course English is important in 8-ball or any other game on a pool table, but it's critical in shooting billiards to control where the cue ball goes after contact with another ball, or the rail, and to avoid letting the cue drop into a pocket and scratching a batch of points.

I played a bunch of this game on my dad's table through the rest of high school and college, both alone and with family and friends, but then played it very little for a couple of decades. I've recently resurrected it at my own place of work where we have a pool table in the parlor games area adjacent to our cafeteria. Other games there include table tennis and Foosball. As I introduced it to some of my colleagues there was some confusion over the name and to prevent it being known simply as "Chip's Game", a title I hadn't earned since it's not my invention in the least, I dubbed it Billiards 321 (for reasons that the rules, below, will make obvious).

I recommend it highly for anyone who enjoys playing on a billiards table, but not so much the standard sinking of balls. My chief rival at Billiards 321 here at work has begun this year by creating a spreadsheet to track our competition. He's broken it down into weekly and monthly increments, determined to best me at some interval. His specialty is making "pots" (sinking balls into the pockets), while mine is making the billiards, so we choose differing shots from similar positions and it keeps things lively.

Without further ado, the rules:

Billiards 321

Billiard: hitting two balls with the cue ball during one shot; English (spin) can make all the difference!

A) Set up the 3, 2 and 1 balls in their home positions as shown: 3 and 1 on the spots, 2 ball in center
B) Cue ball to one side or the other of the 1 ball, no more than a ball's width away.
C) Cue ball must hit 2 rails, including the far rail, before touching any balls, then must hit 2 balls (make a billiard) to be a good break.
D) Players take turns attempting to break until either someone makes a billiard or each player has made an attempt.
E) If the last player fails to make a good break then the first player begins regular play where the balls ended.

A) Must make a billiard to open a turn.
B) Subsequent shots can either sink a ball or make a billiard to continue a turn.
C) Sunk balls are returned to their home position for the next shot (or as close as possible without touching any other balls)
D) If a player scratches during a turn all points accumulated on that turn are lost (A scratch in this game is when the cue ball goes into a pocket, or off the table, or the shooter fouls by hitting other balls than the cue ball with stick, hand, etc.)
E) After a scratch the next player must start from within a ball's width away from the one ball's home position and must hit the far rail prior to touching any other ball.

A) A billiard is 2 points (hitting all 3 balls in one shot is 5 points)
B) Sinking a ball scores the number of points on the ball: 3 ball is 3 points, 2 ball is 2 points, 1 ball is 1 point
C) Both billiards and ball points can be scored in the same shot
     a. It is not required that the billiard completes before the ball falls in the pocket
     b. Example: a player hits both the 1 ball and 3 ball with the cue and pots both balls; that is  2 + 1 + 3 = 6 points for that shot.
D) Players accumulate their points verbally during a turn and then record them at the end of their turn, this way only unscratched points are retained.

E) A standard game is to 50 points, it is not required to hit 50 exactly


 Advanced: This is a billiards game, if some players tend to score too many points by shooting balls then the “billiards rule” can be added, either at the beginning of a game, or during a game if so agreed prior to start. From the point the rule is put in place no more than 2 ball shots in a row without billiards are allowed. If a player shoots 3 ball-only shots then they can keep all points but their turn ends. The sunk ball(s) are re-tabled and the next player shoots as after a miss. (The other players should verbally note when 2 ball shots have been completed without a billiard so everyone is aware that the next shot must include a billiard for the turn to continue.) 

Higher Scoring Variant: When a ball is sunk replace it with the next lowest ball that hasn’t been in play, always spot it on the farthest open home spot from the cue ball (if equidistant then farthest from the other balls). Balls continue to score their face value, wrap back to the lowest ball after the 15 has been used (e.g. back to the 1 ball). Billiards score 5, hitting all 3 balls scores 8. Play to a higher number, e.g. 200.

Have fun !!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Cooking for One, Part Three

I've become cavalier in my cooking. This is a disclaimer for the recipe below. I haven't actually measured any of this yet, but it was quite tasty. My only real training in food preparation comes from my mother and from watching Guy's Grocery Games. Oh, and from eating. I've been eating pretty much my whole life, at least three times a day. But I think it's watching Triple G (and Triple D: Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, though he doesn't seem to visit many real dives, or drive-ins, for that matter) that have set me free from a prior enslavement to measuring spoons.

I'll go by look, feel and taste these days. Especially for add-ins, like walnuts into brownies. Half a handful seems right. But the real secret that I want to share with you today is about dumplings, the pan-fried Asian kind. I don't make those. I buy them. Either from the little Chinese place at the strip mall a few blocks over in the bad part of town (that place is a bit of a dive), or in the frozen food aisle, ethnic section, at Publix. Both of those come with sub-par dumpling sauce, though, and my prior attempts to whip up my own were unsatisfactory. I knew it was a soy sauce base, but that's all I could ever taste when I made some. Neither ginger nor garlic cut the over-salty, over-soy-y taste. And water just, you know, watered it down.

The secret? Rice vinegar.

As warned above, don't trust my measurements, they may lead you astray, trust your instincts, Luke, but these are my guesses at what I put together. Worked wonderfully:

   3 tbsp Lite Soy Sauce (Kikkoman is the name brand, but I don't think it matters)
   2 tbsp rice vinegar (I got Nakano All Natural, again, probably doesn't matter)
 1/4 tsp sesame oil (go easy on this, it can overpower everything)
 1/4 tsp ground ginger (I would've preferred 1/2 tsp fresh grated, but I didn't have it)
 1/4 tsp garlic powder (again, fresh, like one clove, would've been better)
 1 tbsp diced green onions

Mix it up in your favorite small monkey dish.
Dip away.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Cooking for One, Part Two

If you enjoy eating your meals or snacks, as I do, by dipping a variety of rigid finger foods into some type of sauce, then the idea below may be for you.

I've found that I really enjoy consuming potato chips and dip, tortilla chips and salsa (or cheese dip), vegetable sticks and dressing, and so forth. Even though I try to stick to reduced fat potato chips and low fat dip, I know that chips and dip are not my healthiest choices. So I'm trying to lean toward carrot and celery sticks and broccoli and cauliflower branches. They can be a bit dull, so: Amateur Tip (I know, the idiom is "Pro Tip", but I'm an amateur when it comes to cooking. I have worked at three restaurants in my life (bonus points to anyone who can name the establishments), but the closest I ever came to food prep was filling water glasses, foil wrapping potatoes for baking, and restocking a bottled beer cooler.): try Kraft Lite Thousand Island dressing. It's already tangy (says so right on the bottle in my fridge), and give it some extra zing by dicing up 3 or four pickled jalapeno slices.

Very tasty. Happy munching.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cooking for One, Part One

These days I mostly cook my own meals and am the only one eating what I cook. I eat a wide variety of foods, not all of them healthy, but some are. I don't eat nearly as much seafood as is on this scientific list of the most nutritious foods,  but I eat a lot of the fruits, vegetables, nuts and herbs listed there.

Other times I'll order a large pizza (usually from Pizza Hut or Domino's rather than Earth and Stone or Sam and Greg's, but that's just because I'm cheap) and I'll eat about a third of it right away, then I'll have it for dinner 2 or 3 times over the next several days, augmenting with a salad or petite frozen peas from Publix. I can eat half a week that way for about 10 bucks. Did I mention that I can be cheap?

That leaves a few days to fill in with some other fare. Last night it was panko-breaded frozen fish (pollock,  Publix branded, too, as it turns out). It's a bit less bad for me than Gorton's or Mrs. Paul's Beer Battered. I do like that beer batter, though. I also prepped some sweet potato fries -- slice them up french style, a bit of spray-on cooking oil and salt onto an aluminum foil covered baking tray and roast them at 425 degrees with the fish, so not fried at all. Very tasty and pretty good for me.

Anyway, I managed to make some tarter sauce to go with it that I was quite content with:

   1 dill pickle spear, diced
   1/2 tsp prepared horseradish (I like Inglehoffer, mostly for the little jar)
   3 jalapeno rings, diced
   2 tbsp mayonaise (Hellmann's if you have it)

Put it all in a small monkey dish and stir. Enough for two chunks of fish, you don't want there to be leftovers of fish or tarter sauce, anyway.

Double it if you're cooking for two.
Happy Valentine's Day.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Poker Solitaire Rubric

I've mentioned Poker Solitaire, the card game, to a few people lately (mostly when introducing them to my new polyhedral dice solitaire game, Throw Down Seven), but apparently not everyone is familiar with Poker Solitaire so I thought I'd give a run-down of it, the way I like to play.


Also known as Poker SquaresPoker Solitaire is a simple but challenging game with a nice mix of strategy and chance. I learned it from a book on card games, maybe one of the Hoyle books, decades ago. It's not as simple (and mindless) as Clock (click through for someone else's YouTube video that will give you an idea of the version of Clock that I grew up with), but it also has a nice tactile feel like Clock does. This is one reason I prefer to play it with real cards though there are many online and app versions available. The other reason is that none of the digital versions that I've found use my preferred scoring rubric. (I admit we adjusted the one from the original book slightly for more appropriate scoring, e.g. at only 2 points, pairs, were almost meaningless, but I get ahead of myself....)

Poker Solitaire can be played as a win/lose (binary outcome) game, like Clock, or it can be played for score. In Poker Solitaire you try for high score, unlike in Throw Down Seven where lower scores are better. Win/lose Poker Solitaire was featured in the old western TV series Maverick, from the late 1950's and early 1960's. It was in one of the episodes with James Garner, but I don't know which one. (Please let me know if you do!) I'm not sure if they played it as Jacks or Better, or some other level. I find it harder to win at that level than Clock, which you should win about 1 out of 13 tries. I'll sometimes play the win/lose version if I'm only playing one or two rounds, but generally I prefer to play five rounds at a time.  

So How Do You Play?

Simple, if you know your poker hands. Take a standard deck of  52 cards, shuffle it. Then draw cards from the top of the deck one at a time, placing them in (an imaginary) 5 x 5 grid. Once placed a card cannot be moved. (Apparently some people allow the location of the 5 x 5 grid to shift, but I call that cheating.) Like this:

Poker Solitaire (hand in progress)

You build 10 poker hands simultaneously, 5 horizontally and 5 vertically. In the picture above you can see that the second row has a flush and the first column has a full house. I'm building toward flushes in three of the other rows and hoping for two pairs, three of a kind, etc. in the other columns. (There's a long shot of a straight in the second column, and the best I can do in the fifth column is a pair at this point. The bottom row is usually trash, though you never know.)

What about Scoring?

As I said above, I like to play 5 rounds with a goal of scoring a total of 1,000 points, or an average of 200 points per round. That's a challenging mark. Here's the scoring rubric:

Hand            Points
Pair                  3 
2 Pair             10
3 Kind            20
Straight          25
Flush             25
Full House     40
4 Kind            60
St. Flush        75
Royal Flush  100

(Didn't get at least a pair in a hand? That's zero points, sorry.)

A perfect round is 775 points (4 Royal Flushes and a Straight Flush, with the 4 of a Kinds all lined up in columns but in practice rounds over 300 are very rare while it's easy to botch a round and score under 100.)

I haven't found an app or online version that let's me set the scoring system, but if you know of one I'd like to see it!

This is a good version for two players who don't want to compete against each other, you can alternate who plays a round and try to get to 500 together. The second time the other person will get to play three rounds.

Win or Lose Version

If you don't want to keep score you can try to get a certain level of hand, or better. I usually play this as Jacks or Better, but laying out 10 hands with at least a pair of Jacks or better is tough (for me, at least). No junk row! It's much easier if you play it as Ace High or Better, or Any Pair or Better.

Have fun!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

GenCon The Second, Part Last

Once More into the Fray...

None of the five of us, all strangers to each other save two, had braved the food truck lines as of Saturday morning, so face-painted Matt-the-game-runner took the first turn. We were playing "Truck Off: The Food Truck Frenzy" for the first time. It's a terrific board game where each player operates a food truck and chooses which venue to sell at (sporting event, convention, brew pub, etc.). From moment to moment you can cooperate or you can screw the others (I found this latter most entertaining). It also uses polyhedral dice, but only a little bit. I did not win. I did get the secret password, "roadkill", to get a discount to purchase a copy at the Adam's Apple Games booth, which I did. (This game was successfully Kickstarted for original delivery in March 2017.)

Here We Go A-Paneling

He was late but it was still too early in the day for Patrick Rothfuss as he hurried into the packed meeting room. The ticket-taker caught up with him half-way down the aisle, "Sir, do you have a ticket?"

"I'm on the panel," Rothfuss replied clearly through his full beard and hurried on. The room cracked up and the tension retreated.

Geoffrey Girard was also among the panelists. I listened to his Cain's Blood after seeing him at my last GenCon. He's good. Girard own's his New Jersey roots and only moments into the panel he was self-deprecating and deferring to Pat Rothfuss, touching him briefly on the shoulder. "Pat does not consent," came quickly from Rothfuss's mouth. And the tension gripped the room once more. Rothfuss let Girard off the hook shortly, but not before he'd squirmed just a bit.

They'd demonstrated more than they could have planned for this panel: Writer's Craft: Resolving Tension While Holding Interest. Susan J. Morris was moderator again. Other panelists were Maurice Broaddus and Leigh Perry.

Example of opening with tension: "They say he rode into town on a horse the color of milk but I saw him come out of the woods." (Attribution?)

Write small or go home - P. Rothfuss. You don't need death-stakes for tension.
It's about desire and what do you as a reader feel - M Broaddus

Rothfuss: watch out for false tension, it's like a wine glass placed near the edge of a table, it distracts focus as all seeing it worry it will fall and the other drama fades.

Tension needs release.

"Can't have tension without expectation," said Rothfuss, "and managing reader expectation is the hardest thing."

He also told us about "bathos", that it is half of dramatic tension (Wikipedia: bathos is associated with anticlimax, an abrupt transition from a lofty style or grand topic to a common or vulgar one. This may be either accidental (through artistic ineptitude) or intentional (for comic effect)). 

And then he plugged his Name of the Wind playing cards Kickstarter and offered preview art of the playing cards that could be shot and posted as selfies by us attendees. #NOTWArtDeck

Writer's Craft: Can a Hero Be Too Powerful? With Howard Tayler and I didn't note who all else. Short answer: Yes -- stories where the hero isn't vulnerable aren't very interesting, e.g. Superman without kryptonite, otherwise it has to be about the other characters.

My biggest takeaway was Howard's distinction among various types of good guys:
Hero - drives the plot forward
Protagonist - Has a story arc, i.e. character development, finds out who they are
Main Character - lots of focus on this person but they may have no power and may not have much of an arc, depending on who else does or what else the story is about

Writer's Craft: The art of Adding Details: Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal with Steve Diamond moderating.

So this was essentially an unrecorded Writing Excuses podcast (missing Dan Wells, but they are often missing one or more cast members). It was sometimes silly and always fun, but still managed a few pearls.

Details: Focus -  Internal motivation. Breath of Rhythm - Meaningful motivation

Tone, Pacing.

Mary gave nice examples of how details can change a scene: 
1) He entered the room, there was a blonde sitting in a chair.
2) He entered the room, there was a blonde sitting in a chair with legs that went on for miles.

Zelazney: provide 2 details about a character, maybe later add a third.
Readers will fill in the rest, if the action is rich enough.

Exercise: take some of your own writing and pull out all the adjectives and adverbs. Put back just one or two per page. See which is better.

Scaffold and Fade (quoted from Kelly McCullough). Provide a few details and then just hint at the world around those details. Especially with dialect in dialog -- if you keep it up and keep it true it gets tiresome and distracting, but sprinkle them in to keep the characterization, distinction, and tone.

Writer's Craft: How to Write Micro and Flash Fiction with Karen Bovenmyer. This was a small seminar and Bovenmyer had PowerPoint slides, which was great. I wish more of these sessions would use visual aids. She has published a bunch of micro and flash fiction (typically under 500 words and 500 - 1500 words, respectively, though definitions vary and other terms and constraints are widely used). She also has a fresh novel out.

Someone said that of the 3 facets of story, character, setting and plot, a given flash fiction only really gets to explore any two of them -- but that may have been a different panel.

Bovenmyer uses the 7 point plot structure popularized by Dan Wells. The one time I really tried to use it I ended up with a 15,000 word novella, but she says it works. I plan to try. I liked her layout. The plot points appear in the story in numerical order, but you generally try to identify them in the order tagged by the letters, i.e. A then B then C, etc.:

1. Hook           (A)  Something to grab the reader
2. Plot Point I   (D)  Reveal of what the story is about
3. Pinch I        (F)  Bad thing happens/complicating
4. Midpoint       (C)  Characters commit to what's happening
5. Pinch II       (G)  Big bad thing, building to climax
6. Plot Point II  (E)  Climax itself, growth, attain power to win
7. Resolution     (B)  How things work out, or don't

I'll give a high level outline of her presentation, but not the details, you should really get that from her.

Character - what do they want (really?) why can't they have it. POV?
Language - engage the senses, evoke emotion through word choice
Setting - story could not take place elsewhere
Balance - short -- need to show but have to tell sometimes. Get in, get it done, get out
Editing - Sit on it first, cut 10%
Let it fly - get critique group feedback. Cry. Revise. Submit to pubs. Cry. Revise? Believe.

I was saturated. Left the Con for the night and picked up a local pizza en route back to my La Quinta home. Revised my piece for Sunday's professional critique. Fought with the hotel printer a bit. Channel surfed, and slept.

Everyone's a Critic

Sunday morning I read aloud two minutes worth from my WIP (Work In Progress) to two published authors and seven other writers who had brought something to be professionally critiqued. It was less painful than it could have been. (I've done this before. Still not easy.) Everyone got a crap sandwich -- some good comments, then some bad comments, followed by some good comments. Things which came up with more than one author went up on the wall.

I celebrated by hitting the expo again. I bought dice, including a 30 sided one. I got a free GenCon50 die with a coupon. I collected another button or two for my lanyard (note the Dicey Peaks one from when I played on the Expo floor a couple days earlier.)

Shortly after noon I pointed my car south. Despite total eclipse watchers gathering in Tennessee and slowing Nashville traffic to a crawl, it was a sedate drive. After the last four days at GenCon50 almost anything would be.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

GenCon The Second, Part Two

No Dice

I was scheduled to play Dicenstein on Friday morning, but the other players were no-shows. So I watched the previous round finish up and read through the rules. Waaaay too complicated for me. I still had some time before my writing panels began so I started a systematic perusal of the exhibit hall. There are some 29 aisles and each one took about 10 minutes -- if all you did was browse along.

A Panel

Writer's Craft: How to Write an Amazing First Page (Susan J Morris (mod), Dan Wells, Leigh Perry, Marco Palmieri, Dave Mack)

Dan: Don't worry too much about the first page at first.

Leigh (who writes cozy mysteries with a skeleton sidekick): Get your (dead) body out there as soon as possible.

Marco (editor): likes to be dropped in the middle of things without preamble: total immersion; challenge readers to keep up.

Some like to be grabbed by the throat, some like to start with dialog (to get the characters rolling)
Emotion. visceral. Double duty: show the promise/genre, e.g. magic (for fantasy), tech (for sci-fi).

Ground the reader pretty quickly, if not the first page then the first (short) chapter.

Great first lines: 

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel." – William Gibson, Neuromancer.

'He punched the door with a code combination, and awaited face check. It came promptly; the door dilated, and a voice inside said, "Come in, Felix."' -- Robert Heinlein, Beyond this Horizon (cheating here, that's 2 sentences, a full paragraph. And, heaven forbid, a semi-colon. I guess things were different in 1942.)

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." Stephen King, The Dark Tower.

Make the reader want answers. Start with dramatic tension -- readers will read on without knowing exactly what's going on.

Too Many Panels

I walked past a long row of food trucks with lines up to yar and on to lunch at the 24 hour Steak'N'Shake. It was booming but I grabbed a stool at the counter without a wait. They were handling the crowd with aplomb, yes-sirree Bob. Then back for two panels and a reading. 

The first was Writer's Life: An Introvert's Guide to Interacting with the Public. Sandra Tayler was sage.

The reading was Ilana C. Myer and Sandra Tayler. A very small audience of about 7 of us. Highly recommended because we got insights into the evolution of the things they read.

The next panel wasn't part of the Writing Symposium, it was over in the Convention Center (the Symposium was in meeting rooms of the Westin hotel, attached to the CC by a skywalk). Immoral Women in RPGs  and Why We Need More of Them. It was packed but largely lost on me. Margaret Weis, a big name apparently in early Role Playing Game design was there, I think folks came to hear her.

Beware the Kickstarter, My Son

(Always with the apologies to Lewis Carroll)

I had a bit of a Hero's Journey of my own just to find my next presentation, Kickstarting your Game, Book or Film 101. It was at the Crowne Plaza hotel on the far side of the convention center. The Plaza was converted from the old central railway station with some rooms still in train cars and the architecture is of massive steel girders. My meeting room was in the farthest basement corner. 

It was worth the trek. A trio of funding-woes weary Canadian game and film producers from Lynnvander told the several of us all about losing money through successfully funded Kickstarter campaigns.Kickstarter takes 5% off the top, Amazon payments another 3%. If you use a pledge manager (like PledgeManager, Backerkit or Stripe), and you should, that's another 5 to 8 percent. 

If you account for those, the one that most first-timers don't see coming is the delinquent accounts. Credit cards that expired or got canceled between pledge and funding -- and they don't feel like ponying up for that super-double-deluxe package they signed up for. Count on another 2%.

And shipping will kill you. If you include it in the pledge you pay fees on it, too, so a $10 postage stamp costs you more like $12. Count on $11 to $16 to ship a two pound game within the continental US. What to do about a problem like Hawaii? (and Alaska?) More campaigns are handling shipping as extra after the pledging.

Give yourself at least a 15% cushion if you just hit your goal. You're gonna need it.

On the up side, if you blow past your funding goal you look super successful. on the down side if you sell a lot of copies of a game via Kickstarter then no stores will want to stock it. And 1,500 is about a minimum print run for a game, in order to get a good price from the (presumably Chinese) manufacturer. (Lynnvander had a bad print run, ended up telling the backers to throw them in the trash and Lynnvander paid for a second manufacturing run out of their own pockets -- your Kickstarter reputation will follow you, for good or ill. Oh, and so will your Kickstart, you'll be answering emails for years. Tell everybody what's happening every step of the way. It will make (almost) everyone less cranky.)

Consider paying for art, like box cover art, yourself up front. Shows everyone you have skin in the game and you can use it on your Kickstarter page. And backers love the pie chart that shows where their money is going.

Board Game Geek is a great resource. These guys were funny and forthcoming. And they've kept their bank accounts above water, unlike others who have used the next Kickstarter to pay for the shortfalls in the prior one.  Uh-oh.

Your mileage may vary.

Writing Excuses LIVE!

I made my way back to the friendly and familiar surrounds of the Westin, determined never to run my own Kickstarter, The recording sessions for the Writing Excuses podcast had sold out before I got my tickets but I got in as overflow part way through the first hour. The full regular cast was present: Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Mary Robinette Kowal and Dan Wells. This season they are interviewing experts in things other than writing. I saw a falconer (Larry Dixon), a street artist (Illus), a rap producer (Wild Style) and a lawyer whose name escapes me. All good shows. They ended after 8:00 pm.

I called it a night.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

GenCon The Second


I like dice. I'm not a gamer -- not a larping, cosplaying, role-embracing, miniature painting, up-all-night D&D-er. But I do like dice. I'm designing a polyhedral dice solitaire game. Maybe two. And I like board games. And I wanted another chance to discover new games and to hang out with writerly folks and friends from Writing Excuses and to hear wise instruction and tales from living-making authors. So I traveled to GenCon again this year.

It was bigger than ever. Mostly that meant more crowded, even though they spread things out more, too, more, that is, than the other time I attended, which was 2015. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First there was The Journey, a leisurely six hour drive to Indianapolis with a stop in Louisville for some Skyline Chili. I listened to a small portion of The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. It's 36 CDs long, so when I say a small portion I mean about a twelfth.

It turned out I drove a little too leisurely, forgetting that Indianapolis, despite being almost due north of Huntsville, is eastern time; so instead of checking in to my hotel first I went straight to the Indianapolis Table Tennis Club. I played a good couple of hours there and then headed back to the other side of town and my La Quinta home for the next 4 nights.

Like all the area hotels it was sold out largely with GenCon attendees. I smiled to see the lobby full of gamers gaming. Even the desk clerk had done her hair blue for the occasion. It was late and I went straight to bed after showering and eating and channel surfing for a couple of hours.

On to the Show

I really wish my first Writer's Symposium panel had been truer to its title: Writing 101: The Basics -- From POV to Punctuation. At one point Kelly Swails (moderator) started to dive into something, maybe dialogue attribution and when you could skip including "she said" and the like but quickly stopped herself saying that was more like Writing 201. Exhale. We did get some story and self-motivation basics:

Persistence, Time, Discipline. Know what the characters want. Know what the villains are planning to do. (Eric Scott DeBie)

First Draft: What you want to say (Heart). Final Draft: How you want to say it (Head)(Howard Andrew Jones).

Starting reluctance means the scene isn't right (work your outline?) Read. Look at grammar and sentence structure in what you read. Butt in chair. "I won't screw this scene up if I don't write it." Allow yourself to write a bad story. (Swails)

Time management. Write for yourself first. (Dan Wells)

Panel Two: Real Monsters and Vicious Animals (Elizabeth Vaughn, Larry Corriea, Christopher Husberg, Eric Scott De Bie)

Do description through POV reaction.
Use other senses (than sight).
Contrast the mundane with monsters.
More on YouTube than most of us can stand. Shaved bear. Cryptozoology. Wikipedia.
Perception gets blurry in a fight -- go a little bit random and sparing.
Action scenes can be wordy and okay but really wordy can confuse a reader. Movies have the luxury of dragging a viewer forward to the next scene, words on a page can't.

Quick Trip to the Convention Floor

After two panels I had a break and hit the exhibit hall. It is huge. Hundreds of vendors and thousands of people. I found Howard Tayler's booth and chatted with him briefly while he drew. I bought the well-worn version of the Schlock Mercenary Maxims book. Howard signed it for me. Then I found Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells' booth and bought some of Dan's audio books. Later I had him sign them for me.

Next I went to the Calliope Games booth. I had backed a Kickstarter for a new game called Dicey Peaks. The game wasn't expected until October but had come in early and they had arranged pick up and demo games at GenCon, which was sweet. I picked up my signed copy and later got to play a round with the game's designer, Scott Almes. I did not win. But I did get to ask him whether there was a way to play it as solitaire. He said there was no official variant in the rules but that you could play and try to minimize the number of turns it takes to plant your flag atop the mountain. Did I mention I'm designing my own solitaire dice game? Cool to get to talk on the subject with an accomplished designer.

More Panels

Worldbuilding: Creating a Universe of Worlds (Susan J. Morris, Brandon Sanderson, James Sutter, Dave Mack, Marco Palmieri)

I was here, like dozens of others, to get a dose of Brandon Sanderson, but as usual everyone was terrific. In particular Susan J. Morris is a great moderator. Marco is also an editor so brings that perspective.

How to avoid info dumps? Have a newbie/fish-out-of-water character that has to have other characters explain stuff to them. or just bring stuff in gradually, sci-fi/fantasy readers don't need everything clear from the get-go.

Brandon: A grand skill is to be informative AND entertaining.

Avoid tokenism, consider having more than one character from a culture and show differences and similarities.

James Sutter is with Paizo who's new science fantasy role playing game, Starfinder, dropped on Thursday. Their booths had hundreds of people in line all day to pick up copies.

Writer's Craft: Are You Overthinking the Story (Kelly McCullough, Richard Lee Byers, Beth Cato, ??)

Stay in writer brain for first draft, keep editor brain at bay.

World building iceberg -- only a seventh may end up visible in the story but the rest needs to be there, but not fully formed. How much? Who knows...

Stuck on a scene? Look at it from another (tertiary) character's point of view.

I'm interested to check out Beth Cato's Breath of Earth.

Not To Be Missed

An Evening with Patrick Rothfuss

He sold out the large ballroom, so 1,000 or more seats and it filled. Once again he had us agree to not share the grittier details of his regalations, but if you get the chance, he is funny and real. A good storyteller. He's a relatively new parent and has found new connections with parents, the way he had with geeks before that -- just another tribe.

He also asserted, strongly, something that I had already settled on in my mind: in stories, you don't have to kill people for drama. There doesn't have to be horrible death to make a story compelling. You need tension, and stakes, but it doesn't have to be gruesome and final. Especially not for works targeted for all ages. He had some psychology to back up why it might not be good.

He also had some psych on why "spoiling" very young children is a good thing. The young brain decides what kind of world it lives in: nurturing and safe or cutthroat and dangerous. It gets ingrained and manifests in "do unto others". (My words, but I think I got the meaning.)

Late Dinner

Me and some of my fellow Writing Excuses Retreat alumni met Dan Wells for dinner about 10:00 pm at the Ram restaurant. They had reprinted their menus just for GenCon (this con is a big deal for downtown Indianapolis). I had the occasionally named "Fry Haddock and Release the Dogs of War". It was delicious. They had also swapped the in-house TVs from their normal sports fare to showing Bladerunner. It had been a long day and dinner was cozy but sedate.

It was followed by my 15 minute drive to La Quinta and a much shorter session of channel surfing.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Odds and Endings: WFC 2016 Part Three

My notes become much sparser for Saturday and the half-day on Sunday, which may in the end be merciful. Nonetheless I'll put down here for posterity such highlights and attended agenda as I have marked in my program.

First it seems that my final event on Friday was the Starlit Wood release party put on by the editors or the publishers or some such folks. It's an anthology of "New Fairy Tales" by Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone and about a dozen others. The party was very loud and crowded. They had decorated the suite by putting some nifty out takes up on the wall. Here's an example. I also hung out for a bit with some other Writing Excuses retreat alumni, which was cool.

Saturday started a little too early after the party but I wanted to catch a reading by Larry Hodges at 10:00 and I'm glad I did. Larry's short stories are pretty humorous and it's a good way to kick off a day. After that was "The Fantasies of James Thurber" panel. Thurber was a Columbus native and apparently his "13 Clocks" is not to be missed, or so said the panel and also Neil Gaiman who wrote an introduction for a recent reprinting that I heard him read on the drive home from Columbus as I was listening to "A View from the Cheap Seats". Mostly I remember Thurber because my dad loved watching "My World and Welcome To It" on TV.

Next up I listened to artists and Guests of Honor Larry Dixon and Randal Spangler in conversation. Spangler is a pretty regular seeming guy and his art is fantasy but not what I'd call high fantasy. Dixon on the other hand is a character and the combination was entertaining. Dixon has done lots of book covers, been around film and TV (he has a gamers targeted series on YouTube) and is an aviary expert -- that is, he works with birds. He told us about an African Gray parrot that made up a word. It could recognize and say "banana" and "berry" but when given a piece of apple, something it hadn't had before, it said "banan-erry". He also told us that "laughter is a self-massage, electro magnetic pulses run through your muscles when you laugh" and that "calligraphy is swordsmanship writ small".

We also learned that a (fantasy book) cover artist's job is to slow a customer browsing through a store down from 3/4 second per book to 2 seconds; by 4 seconds they are picking it up.

I attended panels on new archaeology finds and how they inform fiction and on middle grade fantasy. I went to a reading by Guy Gavriel Kay. And once again to a panel that tried to define Weird fiction and mostly failed again. Horror editors Ellen Datlow and weird editor Mike Kelly couldn't quite agree. It has something to do with chthulu and the Old Ones (Lovecraft). Or maybe see Van der Meers "Anthology of the Weird". Steve Rasnic: idiosyncratic strangeness of individuals; impossible/improbable but a ring of truth -- not vampires and werewolves. Other thoughts: "bizarro" adds humor. Weird can come from a sad place. Horror must be dark. Weird has deadpan. Sounds a bit like some of my stuff, but not quite on the nose.

Saturday I ate dinner in the hotel restaurant, on my own, which was a nice break from the press of people. Afterwards was the Art Show Reception with coffee and dessert. I broke brownies and had a nice chat with David Boop and Peter Wacks (Peter likes to write amongst activity, like at Perkins Pancake House, one of the only places open late in his town.)

Sunday morning I think the only panel I went to was "Atheist Fantasy? Is God Dead?" The panelists (Larry Hodges, Max Gladstone, Auston Habershaw, Kevin Minerd and L.E. Modesitt) were careful not to tread on faiths, beliefs, or a lack thereof in their fellows or the audience but still managed to be interesting. Someone noted that the latin roots of the word "religion" has to do with a binding of will/self to something larger. I think Auston noted that Fantasy tends to contain powerful magical beings that can create life or grant wishes and sagely asked, "Isn't a god just one of those with a fan club?"

There was another panel with a great title that I ended up skipping out on: "How to Make a Small Fortune in Specialty Publishing (Starting with a Large Fortune)". I packed up my books and commemorative 42nd World Fantasy convention glass and checked out. On the drive home I stopped for a Skyline Chili in St. Matthews, Kentucky.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Secondsies: WFC 2016 Part Two

My second helping of World Fantasy Convention 2016 started at the very reasonable hour of eleven o'clock in the morning, plenty of time for me to have purchased a bottle of grapefruit juice at the convenience store just off the hotel atrium to go with my leftover cinnamon and raisin bagel.

First up was "Keeping YA Weird" with Fran Wilde, Ellen Klages, Rani Graff and possibly Alan Smale -- members of some panels did not quite line up with the printed program due to last minute conflicts and what-not and my notes didn't always cover the differences. My apologies. Here "The Lie Tree" by Frances Hardinge was highly recommended by Fran Wilde, who's opinion I quickly came to respect. Also recommended was "Harrison Squared" by Daryl Gregory along with better known (to me at least) works like Shirley Jackson's "We Have Always Lived in the Castle" and Neil Gaiman's "Coraline". Any kind of a precise definition of the "Weird" genre continued to elude me.

Next I went to Jerome Stueart's bizarre reading of a portion of his "Lemmings in the Third Year" short story, it's about some lemmings doing a scientific study of an owl in their territory and their fatalistic-come-suicidal ethology/ethnography. He left us hanging off a cliff. But I bought his book, so once I'm done savoring the suspense, I'll finish the story.

I had lunch and then attended Fran Wilde's presentation on human self-powered winged flight. A surprising number of people killed or crippled themselves in this pursuit over the centuries, though one or two had some degree of success only to get shunned by their rulers. I'm also looking forward to reading her fantasy novel that includes this subject, "Updraft".

I listened to the Guest of Honor talk by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. He has written a lot of books. I haven't read any of them and I'm not yet in a rush to do so, though he is obviously quite popular it just doesn't seem quite my cup of noodles.

I attended an author reading by Ellen Kushner and a panel on "A Golden Age of Contemporary Asian Fantasy" wherein all the panelists were of Asian decent but none published in an Asian language or had even lived all that long in an Asian country. Panelists included Brenda Clough, Amal El Mohtar, and Mimi Mondal. I took no notes, though the discussion was interesting if not particularly memorable.

The "Mass Signing" rounded out the day. Dozens of authors set up in the ballroom and signed (and sold) their books. Larry Hodges signed "Campaign 2100" for me and we decided that we could most definitely defeat any other duo at the convention in a doubles table tennis match. (Larry is a national champion and I am a state champion in the sport, and between us we know most of the players at that level and none of them are this involved in fantasy genre books.) Later he signed "The Spirit of Pong" for me. I also chatted here a bit with David Boop about "weird" and short stories and bought an anthology, "The Weird South" from him that contains one of his stories. I'm enjoying all the stories in the book quite a lot. L.E. Modesitt signed two of his books that had been included as part of the convention package for me, "Imager" and "The Magic of Recluce".

Heavy hors d'oeuvres were served in the lobby outside the ballroom which made a lovely dinner for me, especially when topped off by a brownie from the dessert table and a cup of hot chocolate in lieu of coffee. I don't drink coffee, but the rich, warm beverage hit the spot and I trundled off to my room.