Meet Authors & Illustrators

Pretty excited to be a part of this event put on by one of my publishers, Crwth Press. It’s on Facebook Live and is free! If you have questions about publishing or writing or illustrating, this is the event for you!

Kamloops Young Authors Conference 2020

This year’s young author’s conference looked quite a bit different than it has in years past. It’s my favourite conference, and one that I look forward to every year all year. In a normal year, I’d take a few extra days off work, take a road trip checking out favourite spots (or newly discovered spots) along the way and then visit family in Vernon before heading home.

This year was different.

When the pandemic hit and many conferences were being shut down (I was also scheduled to be on a Dungeons and Dragons panel for the BCLA conference this year), I took the initiative and suggested to the organizers of the Kamloops YAC that they take their conference online.

I wasn’t the only one who had suggested this, so after a meeting with organizers I pledged any help that I could provide (you do this sort of thing when you believe in the value of something as much as I do this conference) and it was taken online to Zoom.

I was asked to teach a workshop for grades 6/7, and another for teens grades 8-12. And these workshops could not have gone better.

Chances are you can tell I’m a bit of a Dungeons and Dragons fan. I got into the game when I was 12 years old, and was hooked ever since. This was the game that taught me how to write a story, and how to write a book. How could D&D teach you to write books?

That was my first workshop. I talked about the game, how it’s played, the collaborative storytelling, and all my maps. You can see by my table setup above that I wanted them to see how the game can inspire creativity.

My second workshop for the teens was on crafting a great villain–and I talked about my favourite villains (Darth Vader, Johnny Lawrence from Karate Kid, Hans Gruber from Die Hard, and the Governor from Walking Dead) and also about how I got published.

The world has certainly changed. But to me this means creativity and teaching kids to think outside the box is more important than ever. We need the arts and stories to get us through this, not only to help with boredom but also to spark imaginations to come up with creative solutions to problems we encounter in this new normal.

I hope if you’re reading this you’re doing okay. If you’re finding you’re sleeping more and not feeling productive–be easy on yourself. Things will get better.

How to Play Dungeons and Dragons Online

I could also call this post, “How to play D&D in your Pyjamas and Get Away With It.”

There are lots of ways to play Dungeons and Dragons (or other table top role playing games) online. With Roll 20, or Fantasy Grounds, or many of the other dedicated services out there. (If you have a favourite, please leave a comment!)

For me, I wanted to keep the game going that we’ve been playing weekly for the past two years. This is our final stretch for this campaign–the lead up to fighting the Big Boss. They’ve encountered her before, once, and it was the first time the party had no choice but to retreat. Since then, they’ve been chasing her tail trying to figure out how to bring an end to her absolute rule.

This game has been a combo of homebrew, Ghosts of Saltmarsh, Eberron: Rising from the Last War and Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. A war between the vampires and the Illithids–started in the early days of the campaign when the party found a machine that opened a portal to four dimensions and neglected to shut it off. This allowed both Illithids and vampires from their worlds to travel inter-dimensionally. Did I mention two of the characters are Time Lords?

Like many others practising social distancing, my goal was to get the game up and running as quickly as possible and to have it feel as normal as possible. In these times, a little normalcy is comforting.

What I needed:

(1) A way to show the battle map. I play D&D a little like chess, with 3D printed minis that represent the party and terrain pieces to immerse the characters into the plot.

(2) A way of handling my notes quickly and efficiently. I normally use my laptop, but for reasons I’ll explain below that wasn’t possible for my plan to work.

(3) Get the players (and me!) online in a way that we couldn’t talk over one another, and the connection would be stable and clear.

The resources I had open to me (where there are alternatives, I’ll mention in the longer explanation):

–my 2012 MacBook Pro
–A Raspberry Pi connected to my TV (normally used as a retro game console) running Raspbian
–an iPad mini and iPhone
–all the old-school D&D necessities, such as a battle map, minis, books, notes, dice, etc.

Longer Explanation:

(1) I chose Zoom as my “conference” tool to bring the players and myself to the “table.” It’s more stable than Skype, and is built for many voices to be present on it. I signed up for a basic account for $20 so we could play longer than 40 minutes.

–ALTERNATIVE: Skype, which is free, would probably still work.

The MacBook became my “host” computer that I signed into on Zoom. I started the meeting, and pointed the camera at the battle map. This was handy, as I could move the camera as needed, and point it anywhere necessary.

The battle map I used is actually two large pieces of laminated grid paper. This is my usual battle map, and works great with dry erase markers. (I also have one that’s three large laminated grid papers.)

I chose to sprawl this on the floor, so that the MacBook would have plenty of room to be placed around the map.

(2) For those of you unfamiliar with Raspberry Pis, these are tiny computers the size of a credit card. They can be programmed with Linux operating systems (to run applications such as Libre Office (an open source program comparable to Microsoft Word) or to surf the Web), or with operating systems such as Lakka to create retro game systems. Mine is dual programmed for Raspbian (Linux for Raspberry Pi) and Lakka.

I loaded all my notes with Libre Office and had them on the screen. (The example here is just an example. Not my notes, so as not to give away anything to my players who may read this.)

ALTERNATIVE: Obviously, paper notes. I had them as well, sprawled over the floor.

(3) My iPad mini also connected to Zoom was my way of connecting to the players. To avoid feedback, I made sure that the audio was off on my MacBook (it was only displaying video of the battle map anyway). Players could pin the MacBook display to their screen so they could see the game play, but for me I could see who was speaking as their photo displayed on my iPad each time they spoke.

ALTERNATIVE: You could use a smartphone instead. I chose to keep my iPhone free to look up any rules on Roll 20 that we needed clarified quickly. (What can’t be clarified quickly, I make a ruling on and we look it up later. My players are great at trusting my judgment.)

The game play started out feeling a little weird. I eventually realized I needed something comfy to sit on (I found a stool), but after an hour or so it just seemed to flow naturally. It wasn’t better than having everyone here, but it sure was a close second best.

After several days of solitude previous to the game, I found playing this way with my group was just healing and what I needed. Turns out, it was the same for them, too. We’re in weird, unprecedented times right now. Having something like this keeping our lives feeling somewhat normal is good.

Happy TTRPing, all.


Three Spartans Book Launch

Last Thursday, friends and family came out to Vancouver Kidsbooks where we launched The Three Spartans, my newest novel and first middle grade comedy.

My publisher, Crwth Press. Jonathan on the left, Melanie on the right.
Friends who are family: Sarah and Rob
Don and Meg who came from a long journey to be there for me. Love these two!
My Dungeons and Dragons family. Matan, Ashley, and Adrian.
And of course my housemate Suzie and my girlfriend, Amanda. Support and love–what every writer needs!

This certainly won’t be my final stop in promoting the book! I have a signing at Black Bond Books this Saturday, and more to announce in 2020!

To sign off, here’s the video Crwth Press made of the book.

Book Signing November 16 in Delta, BC

Free Three Spartans .STL Files

One of the fun things about promoting a book is finding fun and interesting ways to spread the word. For the last few years, I’ve been pretty involved in 3D printing at work (Richmond Public Library) and so I took those new skills and created some .stl files you can have in advance of the book release.

The Three Spartans is my first middle grade novel, and is a parody of the battle at Thermopylae. This was an epic battle of 300 Spartans against 10 thousand Persians under the rule of Xerxes during the summer of 480 BCE.

In the Three Spartans, we see Art, Lea and George gather up a small resistance to battle Zeke and his Immortals. It’s a story of overcoming incredible odds, and inspiring those around you to do the same.

This is a 3D rendering of a spartan warrior I designed using the beta version of Desktop Hero 3D. I’ve been using version 1 of this program (which is publicly available) to make Dungeons and Dragons characters, and have run library programs teaching teens to write character backgrounds.

So, when I was looking at a cool giveaway, I approached Andrew at Desktop Hero and asked if I could create an .stl for a free download. He agreed, and using V2 I made the above Spartan and a rendering of Art Demus, narrator of the Three Spartans, as seen below.

Andrew was great. He’s redeveloping Desktop Hero 3D into V2, and it’s amazing. I’ve used Hero Forge from time to time to create a character, but this new Desktop Hero 3D (it releases in December) will be my only source for creating figures.

The interface is easy to use and the files (they export in .obj) print nice and clean. I printed mine on a Makerbot Desktop Replicator, with .2 layer height, 100% infill, 2 shells, a raft and supports. (Examples to come in later blog posts.) You can download the files below and give them a try.

Fun Fact Friday

I was first introduced to Greek history in university while in my 20s. I studied the Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, and read it cover to cover. Since then, I’ve been dabbling in Spartan/Athenian history from the taking of Troy to the rule of Alexander the Great. I first discovered Birch Bay while on a road trip. I decided to take a road I’d never taken before, and found myself in a small coastal beach town that immediately made me feel at peace. I knew at that moment I needed to write a book that took place there.

You can support this into becoming a series by buying a copy of the book.