Monday, August 29, 2011

Creating Page Turners with Robert Dugoni

Fortunately for us attendees, the second workshop of this year's PNWA conference, Creating Page Tuners with Robert Dugoni wasn't the contact sport pictured above.  Instead, it was an informative and lively seminar on how to create a "missed my stop" book.

We didn't have time to go through the 13-page handout Bob provided, but we managed to touch on some key elements--

The primary function of a novelist is to ENTERTAIN.

Writers stop entertaining their readers when they:

1. Preach
2. Put too much research material into the narrative
3. Use overblown prose
4. Have same-sounding characters
5. Use too much backstory
6. Use too much flashback

These are called "author intrusions" and should be eliminated.  It is the characters who should tell the story.

And what exactly, is a story? 

It's a journey, which can be physical, or emotional.  In either case, the journey yanks the character out of his ordinary world and "puts him in motion." 
There's a method of telling a story that resonates with people:  The mythic journey.  Our earliest myths and fables use this template--and as a result, these stories continue to entertain.  One of the best sources that examines this template is Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers

Another way to grab and maintain a reader's attention is by using High Concept ideas.  This doesn't necessarily mean an apocalyptic menace threatens the character's civilization, but it does mean the stakes are high for the character.  A policewoman trying to solve a murder case is merely a professional doing her job.  Whereas, a mother trying to find her abducted daughter is high concept.

Employing high concept ideas will torture the protagonist throughout the story.  If things appear to be going well, then pull the rug out from under the hero.  During this journey, the character will learn new skills in order to overcome the obstacles set before him--he'll change.  Conflict and change are the heart of every story. 

And without a heart, a story remains lifeless.

In addition to being a best-selling author, Robert Dugoni is available for speaking engagements, seminars and workshops like this one.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Getting Thyself to the Faire

Last Sunday, I decided to venture Kelley Farm, near Puyallup, for the last day of the Midsummer Renaissance Fair. Pictured above are "the lists" where the tournament (jousting) was held.  Unfortunately, I'm not quite the "ace reporter."  I thought the tournament started at 5 PM, so I wandered around checking out other venues.  When I spotted the crowd walking away from the lists at 5, I realized I missed the whole thing.  Funny, though I never heard any commotion, like the clash of steel or the roar of the crowd.

Upon my arrival, the first thing I noticed when I stepped out of my air conditioned vehicle was the heat. With temperatures in the mid eighties, there was very little wind blowing across field.  At least I was wearing a T-shirt and shorts, unlike the re-enactors wearing their medieval ensemble.

Parisals were prevalent...

...and there was even a "dark ages dousing booth" to help cool folks off.

While I may have missed the grand tournament, I did see some "Boffer Sword" fights, sponsored by The Game Matrix.

The "Shirts Army" vs...

...the "Skins Army."

Our emcee...

"Boudicca" and her Ninja boyfriend prepare for battle...

The battle is joined! 

The girl in the bellydancer miniskirt became known as the "Jingle Queen." She was elevated to royalty during the "Kingslayer" round and had to be protected, otherwise her team would have lost.

For those of us who like to keep our enemies at a distance, there was archery practice.

Some pikemen conducted field drills.

The fair included non-martial activities, such as this minstrel troupe, singing about the "joys" of tobbacco and "barley corn" (beer).

"Scaramouche" performed in the heat.

As if it wasn't hot enough, there was this fire juggler.

After the tournament, the folk dancers gathered at the end of the day.

Behold the "Throne of Dorkness."  No kidding, this was a prop used in the movie, The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, made by Dead Gentlemen Productions.

Despite all the festivities, some folks just couldn't take the heat...

There were plenty of vendors, especially replica weaponsmiths. 

"I'll take one of each, please.  Better yet, make it two."

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Who's Who in Westeros

I finished reading George R.R. Martin's book A Game of Thrones a few months ago.  I'm not sure when I'll get around to reading the subsequent novels, because of their length and lack of closure.  However, since I admire the author's world-building skill, I'll take a divergent course and delve into the various Westeros-based games as I can.

One such game is the Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying (RPG) system by Green Ronin Publishing.  Since I'm involved in two Star Wars RPG campaigns, I wasn't in the mood to learn a new gaming system. However, I've read great reviews about it.  One such review comes from Geek's Dream Girl, that I found via Dice Monkey.

What I did read, cover-to-cover, was the Song of Ice and Fire Campaign Guide.  There are four 5-star reviews for this book on, including mine.  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Martin's Song of Ice and Fire saga.   Gamers and non-gamers would benenfit having this book as a "Who's Who in Westeros" reference guide.

Geek "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun..."

Michelle, one of Dragonflight's dungeon masters (or is it "dungeon mistress?"), posed in her GeekGirlCon T-shirt. 

During my chat with Michelle, I asked her, "What is GeekGirlCon?"

Her answer was strikingly similar to the lead question on the site's FAQ page:

GeekGirlCon is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting awareness of and celebrating the contribution and involvement of women in all aspects of the sciences, science fiction, comics, gaming and related Geek culture through conventions and events that emphasize both the historic and ongoing contribution and influence of women in this culture. We are having our first annual convention on October 8th and 9th at the Seattle Center Northwest Rooms in 2011.

And if attending this new convention isn't enough for you, Steamcon, now celebrating it's third year, will be held the following weekend.

Looks like October will be a busy month for us geeks.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Gettysburg at Dragonflight

This game, the second day of Gettysburg, deserved special attention.  It was set-up below the main staircase of the Bellevue Hilton convention center and provided passers-by with a spectacular view of the miniature battle.

The game was hosted by Allen Dyer, using his homemade rules, Farmers & Firepower

A more grounds-eye view looking at the Union right flank. 

Looking towards the Union center. 

The struggle for Devil's Den.  Even in miniature form, the aptly-named terrain looks like a nasty piece of work.

The 15th Georgia Regiment assaults Little Round Top...

...but the 20th Maine stands firm!

Some of the guys dressed in Civil War uniforms, while Chloe enjoyed playing a "Janey Reb" in her "Southern Gothic" ensemble. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

DragonFlight Fly-By

A couple Saturdays back, my friend Joe and I took a road trip up to Bellevue to check out the gaming at Dragonflight.  While Joe has been to previous Dragonflights, this was my first time attending this convention, which was held at the Bellevue Hilton.  We didn't have time to get involved in any gaming, so we strolled around observing the activities, saying hello to friends and of course--buying more games.

During our brief sojourn, we walked among...

...The Crowds...

...And The Vendors.

A couple of my siblings are Dr. Who fans.  I wonder if they need any Dalek toys?

The entrepenuer and artisan of Geisman Leathers.

I caught up with Michele Wheeler, of Stonehouse Miniatures, for several minutes.  I usually buy some of her products at NHMGS's Enfilade.  But after buying a copy of Descent: The Road to Legend, which I've been searching for, I barely had enough money to buy lunch.

Then, we checked out...

...The New Boardgames:

Clash of Arms new release of La Bataille de la Moscowa.

Columbia Games Julius Ceasar.

While the main floor was dedicated to boardgames, some miniature gaming was going on, ranging from small skirmishes... Ken Cassidy's grand version of Circus Maximus.  (The race was scheduled for later in the evening).

Dungeon masters (DMs) and dungeon delvers gathered in the quieter corners of the convention to participate in role-playing games (RPGs):

Next year, Joe and I hope to be Dragonflight participants instead of observers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The New "Studio!"

Well folks, I've just about settled into my new home.  My phone/TV/internet connection was activated a few days ago. 

Which means Stern Rake Studio is fully operational!

(Of course, I'm now way behind on all my projects)

The actual "studio" is pictured above.  I'm now able to use my entire desk, which I couldn't fit into my last house.  The left-hand section, where I've placed some of my backdrops, will be used for staged photos. 

Despite my project backlog, I look forward to getting back into the swing of things.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bongolesia Gets Big-Time Benefactor!

Rebel Minis is now producing a Bongolesia Boxset based on Michael Murphy's fictitious failed state of Bongolesia. 

Murphy started his wargaming blog nearly five years ago, to chronicle the antics of his on-going AK-47 miniatures campaign.  Since this modest beginning, the mystique of Bongolesia spread like wildfire among the wargaming community, inspiring other gamers to follow suit and develop basket-case countries of their own.

In fact, one of the central planets in my Star Wars campaign and upcoming webcomic, "Bongolaan," was inspired by Murphy's creation.  He's a regular contributor to The Miniatures Page (TMP).
Thanks for all the laughs Murph and congratulations on being recognized by Rebel Minis!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Words, Words, Words with Chris Humphreys

(Image:  Sir Laurence Olivier in Hamlet)

 PNWA kicked-off this year's conference with a "pregame" seminar, starring Chris Humphreys, author of his latest historical novel, A Place Called Armageddon.

Chris's topic was "words, words, words," lifted from a line in Shakespeare's Hamlet.  The main thrust of this workshop was, as writers, to find words to fit our specific purpose.  Combining words is akin to alchemy, not science, and certainly not magic, but an unquantifiable combination of both.

Take the word "passion," for instance.  According to the synonym function in a Word document, the following words are considered similar to passion:  Fervor, ardor, obsession, infatuation, excitement, enthusiasm, zeal and craze.

When Chris conducted a short exercise in word-association using the same term, the audience came up with the following:  Lover(s), spouse/significant other, desire, lust, profession and cause.

Each word has a different connotation, doesn't it?  So word-choice is critical in order to convey an intended meaning, or mood to the reader.

In addition to word choice, Chris made the following suggestions to improve our writing:

--Read the poetry of the era you're writing about, it gives you the flavor of the language.
--Make good use of dramatic pauses.
--Keep in mind readers will not read exactly what you wrote and will make their own interpretations about your narrative.
--Use the Rule of Three.
--Make use of double entendres and onomatopoeias.
--Channel personal experiences into your writing and most importantly, if possible, visit the location you are writing about.

An actor by trade, Chris finished the workshop with the rousing Saint Crispin's Day Speech from Shakespeare's Henry V. 


Unfortunately for us Yanks, A Place Called Armageddon, is only available in the UK, Canada and the Commonwealth.  (Except, of course to "we happy few" who attended this conference).  However, Chris's previous book, Vlad--The Last Confession is finally available in the US.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Road Trip to Bellevue II

Two weekends ago, I attended the PNWA writers conference at the Hyatt in Bellvue.  Last Saturday, my friend Joe & I revisited Bellevue, but this time to check out the Dragonflight Convention at the Hilton. While Joe has attended previous Dragonflights, I was a first-timer to this convention. 

We met and chatted with friends we both knew, bought games from vendors and checked-out the game tables.  This however, was a "fly-by" as we had BBQ reservations at Joe's girlfriend's place, so we didn't have the time to get involved table-top action.

I took over 70 pictures of the convention's second day, although most of these are duplicates taken under different camera settings.  However, since I still don't have my own internet connection, it will be several days, at the earliest that I can get pictures uploaded an a complete narrative of our misadventures.

"We are experiencing technical difficulties, please stand by..."

Monday, August 8, 2011

PNWA's 2011 Summer Conference--My Break from the Movin' Blues

(Image:  PNWA's bookmark with this year's theme)

When the movers deposited the last box, just over a week ago, the inside of my new home looked like it barely survived Sherman's march to the sea.  My days "off" from work were spent clearing the wreckage (and piling the packing material into the garage), until August 4th, when I took a break from the cardboard carnage and attended PNWA's 2011 Summer Conference.

While I haven't written anything book-length, I've been able to accomplish something of literary-ish merit I could brag to discuss with my writer friends.  This year--the square root of zip. 

So, my feelings the first day bordered on the "WTF-am-I-doing-here?" variety.  My mood didn't improve until I had dinner with my classmates from Pam Binder's Popular Fiction course.  It wasn't anything my friends said or did, nor was there a "cinematic epiphany," just a slow & steady rise of my spirits as I sat in the presence of good company.

Thanks to my popfiction comrades, my frame of mind was reset, I enjoyed the rest of the conference.  Not only did I hang out with old friends, but I made new ones and maybe even learned a thing, or two, about writing. 

I'll be posting recaps of the various workshops I attended in the upcoming weeks.

Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures because I unpacked my camera the day AFTER the conference...