Monday, October 21, 2019

Gender Roles and Clothing

A friend (Hi Wulfwen!) posted this on Facebook and I realized it was something I've wanted to babble about for some time now.  Go ahead and read it.  I'll wait.

So these guys bought a couple shawls and their girlfriends dumped them because it somehow made them less ... manly?  Really?  Look at that thing - gray stripes on dark gray, with no fringe or flowers, no lace, and no pattern in the knit.  If it were a jacket or a hoodie it would be in the boring section of a men's clothing store.

As anyone who has studied history or anthropology knows, there is nothing about any particular style of clothing or accessory that inextricably links it to a gender. What in one place or time is considered effeminate will be seen elsewhere and when as masculine. Even when limited to the rural parts of the US this holds true.

Last week when I was picking up Thai food at a local restaurant I noticed one of the guys at the front dest was wearing one of those long sweaters. My first thought was that it looked really comfortable, so I complemented him on it. I did wonder though if he caught any flack for wearing it. Southwest Ohio isn't the most cosmopolitan part of the world.

I also asked myself if I would wear something like that. I still don't know, though mostly because I'm not sure it would look right on me - I'm kind of short and chubby.

The thing is I really like that our culture is loosening up on gender stereotypes. I'm cis-het, but I've been wearing tropical print shirts for decades because most of the colors in the men's section of the average clothing store are so damned boring.

Two years ago I admitted to myself that I'd wanted a purse since I was six years old. Shortly after that I saw one of my younger co-workers carrying a bag and I realized things had changed enough that I could carry one and not get beaten up by some knuckle-walker. So I bought this messenger bag and have been carrying it around ever since.

It is so nice not to have my pockets full of keys and stuff!

Earlier this year I got fed up with wearing socks that were white, black, or gray. Now I have socks that rarely match anything else I'm wearing and my inner-eight-year-old is happy!

There is sort of a catch. My wife, Cindy, does have a say in how I dress and accessorize. It's not because of any ultimatum though but because I value her opinion. If she says I'd look good in something and it's something I'd like to try out then that's cool.  If she says she's not going anywhere with me if I'm going to wear a tank top, tutu, black socks, and sandals then I'm inclined to rethink my sartorial choices.

I guess what I'm saying is that life is too short to wear things that are uncomfortable or ugly or dull (unless you're really into that sort of thing). Change is good. Wear whatever the hell you want. The chances are you'll end up encouraging someone else to wear what they want.

And anyone who tells you it's too masculine/feminine/whatever ... to hell with them.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Charity and Pride

I've been thinking a lot this year about charity - probably more than I should but if there's one thing I'm really good at it's overthinking.

At the most basic level charity is important because it helps those in need. That's sort of the whole point after all, but there's another level above that of what charity does for the benefactor.  Sure, it makes them feel good for having done something good.  More importantly, it pulls them out of their own internal world and reminds them that life isn't just about them; that there are other people out there struggling to get by.

That tells me it's important for at least some charity to be face-to-face.  Yes, it's much more efficient to give money to a big organization so they can deal with the logistics of feeding thousands on a daily basis, and this kind of giving is really needed.  But it's a kind of removed, impersonal act.  It's moving a blip from one account to another, easily divorced from the reality of what it means.

Putting food on a plate for someone has so much more impact.  You see another human being who is hungry and you're saying to them, "Here, I want you to live."

And then you feel good ... and this is where the pride comes in ... and that's not necessarily good.

To one degree or another, people have an inherent desire for validation from their peers.  If they've done something they want to tell others, and then be told it was a good thing to do.  This is perfectly natural and is an important part of how society works.  But when it's combined with charitable acts it tends to center thought on the benefactor rather than the beneficiary.  Giving becomes an act of seeking public approval and building social status rather than helping others.

A quick search on YouTube yields hundreds of videos of people giving. The titles shout things like "Giving Homeless People $1,000" and "FEEDING THE HOMELESS ON MY BIRTHDAY!!!"  They are testaments of generosity, but they've also received criticism for being "poverty porn" and for putting the recipients' lowest point in life out on the internet for the whole world to see.

Of course there's a flip side to this.  Public acts of charity encourage others to give as well.  They remind those who have that there are others who have not, and provide impetus to share the benefits of living in a society.

There's a surprising amount of things to think about
packed into this photo and its caption

I'm afraid I don't really have a conclusion that pulls this all together.  The best I can come up with is: Give if you can, sometimes publicly and sometimes privately.  If you have a lot to spare, give a lot.  If for whatever reason you can't give then help - even if it's just a small thing like helping a stranger up the stairs or tying someone's shoe.

It's a big, scary world out there sometimes and we're all in it together.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Gen Con 2019 Schedule

August 1 - 4, 2019

Once again I've been caught off-guard by Gen Con - It's only two weeks away!

Once again I will be part of the Writer’s Symposium. They've got me scheduled for a bunch of great panels and such - here's the list:

SEM19160166 - Alternate Reality Fiction:  It's fun to answer the "what ifs" of history. Panelists including Cherie Priest, Daniel Myers, Linda Robertson, and David Mack discuss how changing one detail can change everything. 08/01/2019 (Thursday), 11:00 AM, Marriott : Atlanta 
SEM19160183 - Cook Like a Dwarf, Eat Like a Halfling:  How do you write a cookbook for a culture that never existed but everyone knows? One of the authors (Daniel Myers) of "A Dwarven Cookbook" talks about the origins of the recipes in their cookbooks. 08/01/2018 (Thursday), 7:00 PM, Marriott : Marriott Bllrm 2
SEM19160224 - Medieval Foodways:  Fantasy novels are commonly set in medieval Europe, except the food which is usually wrong. Learn from Daniel Myers how medieval cuisine worked and how to create believable fictional foodways. 08/02/2018 (Friday), 7:00 PM, Marriott : Marriott Blrm 3 
SEM19160172 - Believable Fictional Languages:  Fictional worlds often include their own languages, but creating an entire language can be a daunting task. Daniel Myers discusses word generation, common pitfalls, and stealing from the real world. 08/03/2018 (Saturday), 7:00 PM, Marriott : Marriott Bllrm 3

To my surprise, the first two are listed as being sold out.  That said, if you're interested and have the time free try anyway - there are usually some no-shows. See you there!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Origins 2019 Schedule

June 12-16, 2019
Greater Columbus Convention Center
Columbus, Ohio, 43215, USA

Somehow I'm surprised every year at how soon Origins will be.  It's a little over a week away and I feel like I'm completely unprepared.  As in the past eight years I'll be selling books as part of The Library and taking part in some cool panels.

Thursday, 4pm-5pm: Next-level Worldbuilding for Prose or Gaming
Talking about power dynamics in worldbuilding, layering of history, cohesive/coherent worldbuilding that feels like it all connects, etc. Lucy Snyder, Michael R. Underwood, Doc Myers

Friday, 10am-11am: Effective Illusions
How do you make a reader feel as though they’re actually there in the world you’ve created? Join our panelists for tips and tricks on building worlds that are evocative, enchanting, and above all, so immersive you can lose yourself in it and forget you’re reading. Carlos Hernandez, Cat Rambo, Doc Myers

Saturday, 2pm-3pm: Don’t Cross the Streams!
When is it a good idea to cross genres? When is it a bad one? Carlos Hernandez, Addie J. King, Doc Myers

Saturday, 4pm-5pm: The Almighty Dollar
Some writers swear by using economics to augment their worldbuilding, figuring out trade routes, banking systems, and the flow of money. How do you construct a world this way and what are the pros and cons? Doc Myers, Aaron Rosenberg, John Helfers

Sunday, 1pm-2pm: Using Folktales, Legends, and Myths in Your Storytelling
Learning how to differentiate the different types of folklore and how to incorporate them into your worldbuilding. Mercedes Lackey, Doc Myers, Addie J. King, Michael R. Underwood

The rest of the time I'll be at a table in the Exhibition Hall with the rest of the writers. If you're going to be at the convention, stop by to talk. We're a fun bunch!

[last-minute update!]

I've been scheduled to do a reading at 5:30 Saturday evening - I hope someone shows up!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Marcon 2019 Schedule

Multiple Alternative Realities Convention
May 10 - 12
Crowne Plaza Columbus North
Worthington, Ohio

It's spring, and that means convention season has begun. This year I'm giving Marcon a try. It's been years since I've been to a smaller convention and I'm really looking forward to something a bit more relaxed than Origins and Gen Con.

I'm scheduled to do a one-hour panel about Medieval Food & Cooking on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. in Salon D.  Other than that I'll be spending my time in the dealer's room - look for the Blackspoon Press table.

If you're going to be there, stop by and say, "Hi!"

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Great Terrain Adventure - Part 4

This is it - the post you've all been waiting for!  The post that talks about the sewers!

Exciting, I know.

For the town section of the table I really wanted to have a place for rats and spiders and zombies to live and crawl up from. I spent way too much time on the internet looking at photos of medieval European sewer systems and mulling over how I could make something that could even come close.

While I really wanted curved walls and floors like the picture below (because circles are cool), I quickly realized that the options available to me for making them would either be too expensive or too much of a challenge to make look decent.

Lovely curves, wet stuff at the low points, perfect for encountering horrible evil dark creatures, but not so perfect for me to actually make. [heavy sigh]

What I did have though is some molds from Hirst Arts and some Lightweight Hydrocal. That could make me a whole bunch of brick shapes and some floor tiles.  [I have not received any compensation from either Hirst Arts or Woodland Scenics for these blog posts ... though I am open to the idea]

I bought the molds and plaster years ago with the intent of making my own modular dungeon stuff like Dwarven Forge (I have a bunch of their stuff as well and have plans for incorporating it in the table). However I realized that it wasn't the little dungeon pieces I lacked but a better way to use them (which indirectly lead to this whole big project).

So for the sewers I started with a 2.5-inch wide trench in the base foam. Rand the 1-inch floor tiles around the edges which left a half-inch strip of bare hardboard down the middle of the sewer. Then I built up all the walls with bricks. This used up an amazing amount of plaster and the casting step consumed the vast majority of the time.

The brick and tile got a fairly standard paint job (black, gray, dry-brushing, etc.). The bare strip down the middle was painted dark brown with a little bit of green. I then glued clumps of flocking here and there to be moss and slime and such.

Then came the fun part - I added some resin to be sewer water. I used Gorilla Glue two-part epoxy with a bit of green paint mixed in. This stuff has an advantage of being reasonably cheap and viscous enough to not leak out through tiny cracks. The big drawback however is that IT STINKS TO HIGH HEAVEN!!!!!  I probably lost a bunch of critical brain cells working with it to fill in the sewer water. Worse, it made my wife cranky until I moved everything out to the garage overnight. I won't be using it again.

The clumps of slimy stuff and the sewer water turned out pretty well though (once it stopped stinking). It's durable enough to withstand game use and always looks wet and ... slimy.

I decided to build some sections of cobbled street to cover over the sewers when they're not being used. For this I took some foam core board and peeled off the paper backing from one side (this is a pain in the butt). Then I used a highly technical sculpting tool (see photo below) to make cobble impressions on the bare foam.  After the typical painting and dry-brushing it turned out really well. I glued this down to hardboard to give it the needed strength and such.

Yes, it's a pencil that had lost its eraser. I used needle-nose pliers to make it brick-shaped. There are actual tools for stamping our brick and cobble textures but the extreme low cost of this solution makes it well worth the tedium.

In addition to the regular sewer part of the town section, I included a couple other underground portions. There's a sort of storeroom off of the sewer (still need to make a door for it) which in turn has a broken wall that leads to a dark tunnel.

Here's the town section with the streets in place. The little fountain in the center is made from more Hirst Arts pieces. It looks a bit odd having the street there by itself, but when start to add buildings it looks really nice. 

 You'll have to wait to hear about the buildings though.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Great Terrain Adventure - Part 3

In the last installment I had all three sections sculpted and spackled. The next step involved texturing, painting, and flocking, which are all messy but not particularly difficult.

I missed taking a couple pictures so you'll have to use your imagination. On the plus side, I should be able to take photos of each step when I start the next phase of the project - Mount Dread!  Actually I don't know what I'm going to call it yet, but it does involve a mountain. Maybe I should sell naming rights!

Anyway, here you can see the three sections. The mountains on the left had been textured, painted, and flocked.  The river section had just been textured and was still drying. The town section on the right is holding all sorts of stuff including a rum and coke.

For the materials involved, I first went to the grocery and bought the cheapest bag of kitty litter I could find. No "fresh-step", no scenting, no colors, no flavor crystals or whatever. I think it cost less than two bucks and I still have a ton of it left. Then I took a cheap sieve and spent way too much time sifting it and had unpleasant flash backs to when we had a cat. I ended up with a bin of stuff that looked like sand, and another that looked like fine gravel.  I've seen videos that called for bigger gravel but after doing this once I think I can do without.

The texturing is then applied by painting the surface with glue in about one-foot sections, and sprinkling on the sand to cover completely. Then some small areas are glued again and sprinkled with the fine gravel to serve as a sort of accent.

In the above photo you can see I managed to move all the crap off the town section and got it textured. Next to the rock in the front of the river section you can see a graveled spot.

You can also see the sewers in the town section. I'm still not ready to talk about them.

Once the texturing has dried the excess sand needs to be vacuumed up very carefully. You need to make sure the vacuum nozzle doesn't actually touch the surface or it will break the texturing loose and suck it up and you'd need to retexture that part, which is a real bite in the butt.

It was at about this stage when I realized I should probably buy a shop vac. I still haven't.

After the texturing I painted the whole area with dark brown paint. You can't use spray paint because the aerosol will eat away at the foam. You also can't use large brushstrokes because that will brush away the texture. I ended up using a one-inch brush and dabbed the pain on.  When the first layer of paint was completely dry (I hate waiting but sometimes you need to) I dry-brushed the entire surface with brown and light gray.

Note, dry-brushing is where you wipe almost all the paint off of the brush and then go over the surface very lightly. Each pass puts the tiniest amount of paint on the high points and leaves the recessed parts dark.

Now when that paint was completely dry I added the flocking. This was pretty much the same process as the texturing but messier. This was one of the places where I just gave in and used the specialized stuff for railroad hobbyists, Woodland Scenics. I had a few packages from an earlier project that had never quite got off the ground.

Here I learned three important things:

1. Either flocking fades as it ages or there is a huge amount of color variation in a product.

2. It takes a heck of a lot more flocking than you would expect to get a nice result.

3. The color comes off on your fingers.

I used three different shades of coarse flocking: dark, medium, and light. The big color differences seen in the picture below were primarily caused by running out of the old flocking and switching to the new. The brand was the same and theoretically the colors should have matched. They didn't. I tried blending the colors to get a closer match with mixed results.

What I tried to do was to use the light colored flocking along the road edge, the dark color at the base of the mountains and stones, and the medium color everywhere else. I left the road unflocked and made sure there were some thinly flocked places here and there.

Applying it was a lot like texturing. I brushed glue onto a section and added the flocking. Sprinkling it on didn't seem to work well, so I eventually developed a technique which involved putting the flocking on pretty thickly and then carefully mashing it flat with my fingers.

After the flocking dried I gently rubbed the surface with my hands to remove any flocking that wasn't actually glued down. There was a lot of it really, but I saved it to use for later terrain or for making trees. This is where my hands turned green.

I was kind of surprised how nice the whole thing looked at this point.  Here are some closeups.

The monoliths in the stone circle - they shows the effect of the dry-brushing pretty nicely.

I hadn't originally intended to have a cave in the mountainside but it looked like it wanted one there. While the foam was still unpainted I carved out a section. You can see the kitty-litter texturing on the right side of the cave opening.

This is one of the little houses. The rock outcroppings are molded plaster and the path is just textured and painted surface without the flocking.

Standing back and looking at the whole thing made me feel immensely better about my crafting skills. Mind you, there was still a lot left to do and it would involve trying all new things.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Great Terrain Adventure - Part 2

Before I continue on from the first installment of this particular insanity, I thought I'd take a moment for some thoughts and general observations.

I am not the most adept person with tools. I can muddle through some things but I've learned exactly how much I don't know about making and fixing things. What this means is that if I can do this you can too.  Really.  Trust me.

One of the side effects of the above is that I don't have a lot of power tools or specialized equipment. In fact one of the specific tools I started out with - a cheap, hot-wire foam-cutter - I gave up on because of the crappy results. I also haven't bought much in the way of tools for this project.

My overall goal is to end up with a nice looking terrain table for actual fantasy games with miniatures. I'm not making a showpiece diorama kind of thing where I want it to be 100% perfect to scale with amazing detail; moving miniatures around on that kind of setup would certainly mess it up.

That being said, I do want it to look nice. I would hate to put so much time into something and be able to see where I used cereal boxes and cottage cheese containers.

Lastly, whenever possible I try to avoid expensive materials and tools. The vast majority of what has gone into this came from local hardware and craft stores.

Ok, so on with the adventure!

After having done some rough gluing and sculpting in part 1, I continued to shape the terrain.  In the picture above you can see the mountains on the left now have some added surface texture thanks to me hacking away at it with a large utility knife (the yellow handled think to the left of center).

I had a lot of internal debate on this. Part of me wanted the mountain to be more realistic in shape, but the terracing effect from the layers of foam would allow for minis to be set partway up the mountain. I went ahead with functionality over reality (this wouldn't be the last time).

In the river section, I covered the built-up foam area with spackle and glued some molded plaster rock's to one side of the bank. The stuff starts out pink while it's wet and turns completely white when it dries, which keeps me from sticking my fingers in it to see if it's dry yet and messing up the sculpted surface.  Spackle is wonderful stuff. I went through at least a whole quart tub of it for the terrain overall. There's another molded-plaster rock (bottom center) in what will be the shallower part of the river.

Oh, that reminds me about glue. Through all of this I'm just using good old-fashioned Elmer's white glue. If you're going to make one of these, go to the hardware store and buy one of the gallon bottles. Really. I totally underestimated how much glue this all takes and went with the little frickin' bottles because they're cheap. Now I've gone through at least a dozen of them and wish I'd just bought the big one.

I bought the red-handled wire brush (just to the right of center) for adding texture and some coarse sculpting. Don't bother. I found it makes a mess and doesn't work that well. Maybe I'll use it to clean a grill or something.

On the far right you can see the trench I carved for the town sewer. It turned out it would have been a hell of a lot easier to cut this before I glued the foam to the hardboard. Live and learn.

In the next picture I've made some more progress. The river banks have been built up a bit more with spackle, and I've spackled some of the gaps on the mountains. The mountains also have some plaster rocks added to the top, and in that far back corner is the ruins of a tower (I'll talk about making these in a later post). I also added some rocks and spackle to the flat part of the mountain section to keep the terrain from being too ... well ... flat.

Just to the left of the river is a stone circle. I did a lot of going in circles (pun intended) over how to build it. I didn't want the stones to be soft foam so I messed around with the idea of carving them out of wood, modeling them out of clay, or molding them in plaster. The more I thought about it the more of a pain in the butt these all would be, so I ended up carving them out of some spare pieces of blue foam. Surprisingly they turned out to not be too soft, and once glued down (with a toothpick pinning each one for added stability) they're really well set and not going anywhere.

The little houses that were tan in the top photo were painted to the best of my limited painting ability. I got them years ago as a freebie at Gen Con. They're not exactly to the right scale and you can't open them to move figures around inside, but they'll be useful for outdoor encounters.

On the right side ... well, ignore that for now. The sewers merit a post all to themselves.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Great Terrain Adventure - Part 1

A couple of years back I came across a bunch of photos like this one:

Worse, it was a whole set of photos in a gallery. This made my not-so-well-concealed inner-geek squee with wonder.  I love games like AD&D, and having spent the last several years at Gen Con staring at the big terrain setups there and sighing, the photos kind of pushed me over the edge.


Never mind that I already have way too many projects. Ignore the fact that I don't have a big, pretty room with shelving and such like in the pictures. Do not even begin to consider that I rarely can make anything crafty look like it does inside my head. It simply must be so.

But how?

I watched how-to videos. I waded through websites. I consulted with my friends who paint minis and sculpt and stuff. I watched even more how-to videos. Eventually I had a pretty good idea of how I was going to do it all. So drew up some sketches, bought some hardboard and foam-board from the hardware store, and I set down to work.

I wanted to make the setup modular, so I cut the hardboard into 1 foot squares and used a hot-wire foam cutter to cut the foam-board to the same size.  With the foam and hardboard glued together these would be the base for the whole thing.

I let the first few squares dry overnight, and then the table in the basement sat looking this way for a couple months.

There were problems. First is that the cheap hot-wire foam cutter I had didn't work very well.  The edges of the squares were going to need a lot of sanding and they didn't line up very well. It was turning into more work than expected and the results weren't as clean as I wanted. Also, cutting the foam made all sorts of noxious fumes. I needed to find a different approach, so I stopped to mull it all over a bit longer.

Here's what I worked out.  First, I needed to work in larger sections. Fewer seams would make for a nicer looking final setup.  Second, I needed to use thicker foam-board. I wanted to sculpt some things into the base level and needed a little extra depth.  Third, I had to get it into my head that this wasn't going to be done in a single weekend.

So I watched some more how-to videos and started again.  I was going to make three large sections first.  Some mountains on one side, a narrow section with a river, and the largest section would be for a town. I cut more hardboard for the base sections, cut the foam-board to fit, and then used extra pieces to build up one side.

This is the point where things start taking shape. You can see the mountains on the left, the river carved into the center (with it's built-up embankment in the back), and the trench on the right which will become the town's sewers (ya gotta have sewers in the town so the giant rats have somewhere to live).

You can also see that I'm not very good about keeping my work area tidy.  Yeah.  Deal with it.