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.


Author Event at the Richmond Public Library

For you local folks, I’ll be doing an author event at the Richmond Public Library on October 3, from 4-5:00PM. Topic: Writing Dungeons and Dragons-style.
If you have the time, it would be great to see you there. Please consider registering!

You’ll have a chance to try out some of the techniques I use for crafting a story. And here are a few of the things I’ll be discussing:

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James in His Jeep Getting Java–Kokanee Creek

Crow’s Nest Highway was a spectacular drive, with these statues on the side of the road (there were many, I stopped to photograph two of them). While they made the drive interesting, it bothered me that they seemed to be for entrances to private high-end homes for the uber wealthy. They kind of said, “You can’t afford here. Move on.”

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While researching where I was going to camp, my original plan was to drive to Drumheller. When I saw Kokanee Creek online, it looked so beautiful that I decided to spend a few days there instead. Glad I did.

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I was a short walk to the lake and in a spot where I couldn’t see my neighbours. I could hear them though, as the kids playing in the campsite were screaming at the top of their lungs (one repeated the same Queen’s lyrics “We are the champions” over and over). They even rode their bikes into the washrooms, spreading wet mud everywhere. Thankfully, they were only there for the weekend and I was there for a few days into the week.

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I did have one thunderstorm while I was there, and branches from above broke and fell on my tent. The poles snapped in two, but the tent held up enough to get me through the night and early morning. The day turned out sunny (plus 30), with intermittent sun showers. I bought another tent, and carried on the rest of my trip making a mental note to invest in a much, much better tent..

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This was my view each morning when I woke up. I’d make a cup of coffee, walk to the lake, and sit and stare at the water.

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Instead of an inspirational song, I’ve added a video that I took while sitting on the beach. Enjoy!

James in His Jeep Getting Java – The Camping Edition

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Maybe it’s all the apocalypse writing and reading I’ve been doing over the last few years, but I got back into camping this summer. This trip I took west instead of south, and I stayed in Canada to visit a few places I’d never been.

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My goal was to drive from Vancouver to Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. I booked campsites in Manning Park, Kokanee Creek, and Stemwinder Provincial Park. I drove the Crow’s Nest Highway (Hwy 3) from Hope to Nelson and stopped in a few really great towns.

What I didn’t know when I began was the necessity of booking your campsite ahead of time. Unlike when I was a kid, one cannot simply go into a campsite and expect a great spot. (Get the reference there?) I booked mine the week ahead, but because I was travelling on odd days (I began on a Friday and ended on a Friday) I was able to secure some sweet spots. If you haven’t used Discover Camping yet, it is a really simple service that lets you see photos of your spot. Unlike dating sites, these photos accurately represent what you’ll find when meeting.

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I originally wanted to spend Friday to Sunday in Manning Park, but by the time I went to book the only spots for that time frame were in overflow near the highway. Instead, I changed my dates to just Friday to Saturday, which opened up a spot in the Lightning Lake Large Loop section which was pretty sweet. A close walk to the lake, and a pretty private (and quiet) camping area.

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It was also early enough in the season that there were no fire bans. You do have to remember to bring cash for firewood, as it is illegal to transport out of park wood into your site.

The night I spent in Manning was actually pretty terrible. (No fault to the site at all.) Being summer, I was prepared for summer heat and not for the quickly changing temperatures of the mountains. It got cold that night–no idea how cold, but my tent, sleeping bag, and the sweater/pants/pyjamas I wore were not enough to stave off the cold. To say it was rough is to understate just how cold I got. I’m from Winnipeg–I’ve dealt with -40 and colder.

After Manning, I drove Crow’s Nest to Princeton, BC, a little town of about 3,000 people. It had an old feel to it and very friendly people. I discovered a very tasty cafe, the Cowboy Coffee. Had french toast and coffee there–highly recommend.

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While in Princeton, I knew I’d need a better sleeping bag if I wanted to survive another night. I found the outdoor store, Princeton Outdoor Supply, who was very helpful and had a sleeping bag that should do the trick. He suggested that I take the one I have and put it inside the new one, and sleep with the two if I got cold. It was a great idea, actually, and gave me the leeway to have a cooler night if needed.

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Plus, I saw this deer. Didn’t seem to mind me or the traffic at all.

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While on my trip, I listened to a local singer/songwriter Land of Deborah. Give her a listen–she’s great road trip tunes!

ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: To Die, or Not to Die, that is the Question…

Ever wonder what authors would do in the case of a zombie apocalypse? On every Thursday, I’ll be posting the answers to that question on my blog…

This week, author Jane Alvey Harris weighs in on her zombie apocalypse survival plan.

I already have a ‘Zombie Contingency Plan’ ready to go

My good friend James asked me to write up a guest post about what I would do in the event of a ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. I bet he wasn’t expecting to hear that I already have a ‘Zombie Contingency Plan’ ready to go. But I totally DO.

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Here’s the thing. I don’t like zombies. Like, AT ALL.

“Well, duh, Jane,” you might scoff. “Nobody likes zombies!” Yeah, yeah. So you say. But I know some of you secretly can’t wait to get out there and dust up some undead. I for REALS want NOTHING to do with them.

Anyone who knows me well knows what I would do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. I think it’s an important disclosure, and one that can tell you a lot about a person.

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Do YOUR loved ones know about your Zombie Apocalypse Contingency Plan?

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Mine do, and it’s pretty simple: I would off myself. Immediately. 

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Trust me, I know this isn’t a popular plan, and you’re welcome to try and change my mind. But you won’t.  I promiseI would only choose this plan IF there were an apocalypse, and IF that apocalypse produced brain-eating zombies.

IF, PEOPLE!!!

SLXL Because, (sorry, James) why would anyone want to survive a Zombie Apocalypse?? The living turn into MONSTERS, and like, strap strangers to mattresses for their snacking convenience, (I’m still traumatized after reading Cormac McCarty’s “The Road”) and all the undead are gory, gross, brain-eating machines.

I see no tenable future in that scenario.

Emily, the main character in my current series, the My Myth Trilogy, would XLL Shandle things quite differently. She’s a caricature of my own personality, which makes her simultaneously stronger and weaker than I am. Emily would survive to save her siblings Jacob, Aidan, and Claire (whereas I would kill us all). They’re her whole purpose, her reason for striving, her reason for facing her demons, her reason for doing really difficult things that almost paralyze her.

Emily may joke about zombies, but if they ever threatened her brothers and sister, she would decimate them with her masculine and feminine Fae powers of Blaze and Keen.

Bottom line:

You absolutely want Emily on your side in a zombie apocalypse.

You just want to be very careful not to get to close…

and you definitely never want to piss her off.

As for me? I’m guessing you probably don’t want me on your side.

Jane

I have a Humanities degree from Brigham Young University with emphases in Art History, Italian Language, and Studio Art. I’m CRAZY about the visual and performing arts! I enjoy playing classical piano, painting & sketching, singing & acting, and especially writing poetry & prose.

 But my real passion is PEOPLE. I love to watch and study what makes us tick as human beings. I’m definitely a dreamer, and my favorite thing to do is weave together sublime settings and stories for characters to live and learn in…myself included.

 I currently live in an enchanted fairy-princess castle in Dallas, Texas, with my three often-adorable children and their three seldom-adorable cats.