Friday, May 25, 2012

Update on the Conventions

Only a few days to go until Origins. I think I’m ready, though I still need to get some bookmarks printed up and maybe get a haircut. As a bonus, Patrick Rothfuss has said he’ll be there (as a participant rather than as a guest). Got to make sure he gets a copy of the cookbook.

On the Gen Con side of things, registration went online last weekend. I’ve got 48 who have already signed up for Medieval Travelling Food and 43 for the Build Your Own Language workshop. Those are pretty decent numbers, though it can be hard to match them to actual attendance. Some years I’ve had way more people show up than register and other years it’s been the same or less. It all depends on what else is scheduled on Thursday and Friday evening.

The surprise is the 24 people who have signed up for How to Cook Like a Dwarf. I wasn’t sure how this one would fare seeing as it’s scheduled in the middle of the day on Saturday, and it’s in a hotel rather than the convention center. Looks good so far.

I keep feeling like there’s stuff I’ve forgotten to do.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thoughts on Zombies

I suspect that I spend far more time thinking about zombies than the average American … at least, I hope I do.

I’ve started watching “The Walking Dead”, and so far it strikes me as fairly standard zombie apocalypse stuff. Of course I’m looking at things rather critically, so really it says a lot about the series (or at least the first two episodes) that I don’t already have a long list of plot holes, contradictions, and the like.

It did get me musing about zombies in general. My first thought was that an old-fashioned prison would be a good place to hole up and fend off the flesh-eating hordes. That assumes the prison isn’t already occupied – cleaning one out might be a challenge.

Then I got to musing about the best defenses against the traditional, stupid, shambling undead. It occurred to me that what would really work well would be land mines with trip wires. The zombies would just shuffle right into them and take themselves out, giving a loud alert to their presence in the process. The mines could even be clearly marked to allow the living to step right over them. A few perimeters of such mines could keep a small town nice and zombie free.
“Yeah, but sooner or later you’re going to run out of bullets for the machine gun, and then you’d be glad to have the case of machetes.” comment by unknown speaker in an overheard conversation about zombies at a Pennsylvania campground ]
The real zombie paradigm shift (bet you never thought you’d see those four words together) hit me as I started musing over the zombie-as-disease issue. I’ve chatted with friends and relatives about this in the past and I just haven’t been able to make the concept work realistically. The problem, simply put, is that I any disease capable of making a corpse walk about wouldn’t really care if the creature’s head gets blown off. It’s not like the lump of spoiled brain mush could be cranking out enough power to achieve anything anyway.

What I realized though is that the whole problem is resolved (and all sorts of new areas of conflict are created) with one simple change: zombies are not dead.

Let’s consider the hypothetical zombie disease. It’s a virus like CJD or Kuru that cause the physical symptoms associated with a degenerative neurological disorder. This would account for the shuffling gait and the inability to speak.

Now add aspects of Frontotemporal dementia, which would affect planning, organization, and other cognitive functions. Throw in a dash of the symptoms of Schizophrenia caused by Temporal and Limbic damage, as well as the kind of peripheral nerve damage that leads to an inability to feel pain like that caused by Leprosy (which is bacterial, but I figure a virus could easily do it too).
So what we end up with is a disease that turns the victim into a unthinking, unfeeling, stumbling thing that will ignore non-fatal injuries. Assuming the disease encourages transmission by making the victim prone to biting others, that pretty much completes the package.
“More fun! More people killed! Blood and brains upon the ground, and me without a spoon!” [ my grandmother ]
Here’s the interesting part (for writers). A disease like the hypothetical one above could have all sorts of aspects that are perfect for use in a horror novel.

The first that comes to mind is that the victims are still alive. Is it right to kill them off indiscriminately? Are they curable? Having characters wrestle with these issues makes the story much more than an infestation of big, rabid animals.

Another important aspect is that a lot of viruses like these have potentially long latency periods – some up to 20 years – in which the victim could be contagious. The healthy characters could end up obsessive about disease and cleanliness, constantly watching their fellow survivors for telltale early symptoms.

The method of transmission is also full of potential. Yes, it’s typically through zombie bites, but there are all sorts of interesting possibilities. Airborne or waterborne would add additional challenges for the characters to overcome. It might be sexually transmitted as well (though I don’t think I want to read that book).

Then there’s the issue of where the disease came from. A terrorist’s biological weapon or an accident from a secret research facility are the obvious choices, though it could be something that springs up spontaneously from the edges of the wild, like Ebola. It could also be a chance fusion of multiple viruses from someone who was very very sick.

All of this means that the zombie-as-disease concept now works pretty well in my head, and therefore will probably find its way onto a written page.

I’m going to go wash my hands now, and then maybe go watch something that is all sunshine and butterflies.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Origins Game Fair – 2012

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be at Origins Game Fair this year as part of their new program for writers, The Library.

May 30-June 3, 2012
Greater Columbus Convention Center
Columbus, Ohio, 43215, USA

I’ll be taking part on a number of panels, and will have a table with the other authors where I can sell copies of the books. In the remaining time I’ll be gaming, schmoozing, and stalking Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day.

Here’s the schedule for the seminars I’m participating in:


Speak Up! (1:00 p.m.)
Sheeeoot! How ya gonna git yer folks ta talk so’s readers kin understand ‘em ‘n cobble onto jest wut they’s sposed ta sound like? Dialogs, dialects, slang, and more add color and round-out your characters, settings, and stories. Learn how to use them to best effect without making your readers scratch their heads or toss your book across the room in frustration.
What’s in Your Basement? (2:00 p.m.)
From creepy caverns to haunted subways, the underground is a terrific playground for your fiction. What makes the belly of the world ripe for fantasy and horror tales? Why is Hell always below? What monsters lurk in your basement? Panelists discuss their favorite underground settings and how to use caves, tunnels, and more to best effect.


What’s in Your Literary Kitchen? (Noon)
Origins is proud to host author and medieval chef Daniel Myers. He’ll teach you how to properly feed your characters . . . which in turn will fatten your manuscript into something rich and believable. Characters have to eat, don’t they? What you feed them tells a lot about your fictional society. James Bond liked his martinis shaken, not stirred. Kojak had his lollipops. Tolkien’s hobbits had . . . well anything they could stuff in their mouths. You get the idea.
The Art of the Short Story (1:00 p.m.)
There’s a big difference between writing a short story and a novel . . . and we’re not talking word count. It’s in the approach, the pacing, and character development—or lack thereof. A good short story is a work of art. Our panelists discuss the elements of short fiction and the markets.


Setting Your Stage (Noon)
The landscape for your fiction has a personality. It’s a compelling stage for your characters to dance on. It doesn’t matter whether you pepper it with ruins, castles, caves, or soaring cities, you have to choose what details to put in and what to leave out. Our panelists, expert world-builders all, discuss the elements of crafting vibrant settings.
Well-Read Undead (1:00 p.m.)
Vampires are still hot, zombies, too. What is the fascination with corpses-as-characters? How can you pull off a good “dead” tale that isn’t a retread of what’s already out there? Our panelists discuss how to handle undead heroes and villains and where to market your “dead end” fiction.
I expect the whole thing to be a total blast.

Gen Con 2012 Schedule

Gen Con Indy 2012 – August 16-19

Gen Con is about three months away and I’m trying to get things ready. Unfortunately I’m not part of the Writer’s Symposium panels this year, but I’m sure I’ll find plenty to keep me busy. As in past years, I’m giving a two hour talk on Thursday evening.
SEM1229781 – Medieval Travelling Food: The Theory and Practice of Hard Rations
Learn about what medieval soldiers and travelers ate when they were in the wilds, and see what you can do as a game master or writer to make things just that much more believable.
08/16/2012, 8:00 PM, ICC : Rm 243
Additionally, I’ve scheduled two events for Blackspoon Press.
SEM1229782 – How to Cook Like a Dwarf
How do you write a cookbook for a culture that never existed but everyone knows? The authors of The Dwarven Cookbook talk about the origins of the recipes in their cookbooks.
08/18/2012, 3:00 PM, Crowne Plaza : Victoria Stn A/B
SEM1229783 – Build Your Own Language
This workshop will guide you in creating your own language. With minimal materials and two hours of time, you will have the core a language suitable for adding color to a game or novel background.
08/17/2012, 8:00 PM, ICC : Rm 243
This last one is the most challenging for me to prepare. I want the participants to walk away with something usable and unique, but I don’t want to delve too deeply into linguistics (after all, this isn’t a college course). What’s more, it’s a free seminar (as are the others) so any handouts I provide will be paid for out of my own pocket. We’ll see how many sign up during early registration.
On the whole, I expect this year to be a lot of fun.