Friday, March 03, 2017

Reflections from the Road: Mountain Brook Writers’ Festival

This week was the Mountain Brook Writers' Festival. This was a three day event, from February 28th to March 2nd. Along with myself, it featured Susan Carothers, Henry Cole, Margaret Peterson Haddix, and Lori Nichols.

We each visited one school a day, in my case in conjunction with picture book author Susan Carothers ('Twas the Night Before Game Day SEC). First up was Mountain Brook Elementary, where I spoke in the afternoon to the 4th to 6th grade to an audience that included several long time fans as well as the children of a couple friends!

That evening, there was a reception at someone's home for the authors, librarians, and festival chairpersons. This was wonderful because were kept the same author pairing all week, so Susan and I had a chance to meet the other guests. I got to spend some time getting to know Margaret Peterson Haddix, who is as wonderful as she is talented, and I overindulged on Baby Bites.

Wednesday, I went to Cherokee Bend Elementary, again for an afternoon presentation to their 4th to 6th grades. I also got to meet first grader Wyatt, who was "acting principal" for the day, and he and I had a fun discussion of the Lego Batman Movie (and overindulged in brownies).

Thursday was a full day from 8:30 am to 3:15pm at Brookwood Forest Elementary,  where I gave two presentations, first to the 4th grade and then to the 5th and 6th, with two separate signings. I met several existing fans, re-met some others, and had a great day. (And, in case you haven't yet spotted the running theme, I overindulged on Magic Muffins.)
The entire 3 day festival was fantastic, a great time connecting with old fans and making new ones, and I got to meet so many wonderful students, dedicated librarians, and fabulous authors. Sincere thanks to Librarians, Margaret Hudson, Beth Shea, and Cleo Lackey, to Little Professor Book Center for facilitating booksales, to the Mitchell's for opening their home, and to everyone else who helped make this a great event.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

I'm in Portuguese! I'm in Portuguese!

Thanks to Editora Jangada, I am now in Brazil! I'm thrilled to be published there, and I can't wait to get my hands on copies. It looks like Frostborn has been retitled Journey on Ice. Cool!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Reflections from the Road: Highlands School and Cliff Valley School

I've hit two schools in the last two weeks. Last week, on Thursday the 10th, I visited Highlands School in Birmingham, Alabama where I spoke to the 4th-8th grades, about 121 kids in total. Afterwards, I went to the library where a smaller group of kids, some of whom had brought books to sign and some of whom had questions, got to talk with me in a more intimate setting for a bit. It was a great visit, and the students had some fantastic questions.

Also, originally I was slated to speak to only the 5th-8th grades, but it turns out I had a lot of fans in the 4th, so they let them join. Was that nice to hear? Yes it was. Thanks very much to Lisa Lorenz, Middle School English, Elise Blackery, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and Kavita Vasil, Head of School, for making this happen.

Then yesterday, Thursday the 17th, I drove 2 hours and 20 minutes to Atlanta, Georgia to speak to Cliff Valley School. I got into town in time to grab a (very) quick bite to eat at Desta Ethiopian Kitchen, where I had the chicken with injera bread, and it was excellent. Spicy and tangy and just the right amount.

Then it was on to the school, where I gave two talks, one to the 3rd and 4th grades and one to the 5th and 6th grades. I had a fantastic time, the kids were really engaged, and we signed a ton of books after each talk! Thanks to Little Shop of Stories for facilitating booksales, and to Librarian Rose Garrett for arranging my visit!

Two great schools in two weeks! 

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Reflections from the Road: A Week in San Antonio

The last week plus has been an amazing time. I spent Monday to Monday in San Antonio, visiting three schools as part of the Skyborn tour, speaking to a literary council, and participating in a writing workshop and comic convention.

I flew in Monday night, where my dear friend John Picacio picked me up and we went out for pizza and beer at Barbaro. We both had a big week ahead and this was a great way to take a moment to spend time together, as well as to prepare for the days ahead.

Then Tuesday morning, bright and early, off to Hector P. Garcia Middle School, where I presented to the 170 or so students of their sixth through eight grade all at once. They were a great group of kids and we had a wonderful time. Thanks to Stacie Tharp, Library Media Specialists, for reaching out and making this happen.

Afterwards, I discovered my hotel was located half a block from one of my favorite restaurants, Acenar.  Then I roamed the Riverwalk for a bit, though not enough to
walk off the delicious baskets of chips!

Then that afternoon, Carolyn Denny (of the Keystone School) picked me up and took me to speak to the Alamo City Reading Council, a group of educators and others interested in promoting children's literacy. I gave a talk to the council, followed by a book signing. With cookies and lemon squares!

And then the council board took me out for a fabulous dinner at Mi Tierra Restaurant & Bakery, which is open 24/7, covered in Christmas lights year round, and full of roving Mariachi bands. It was a really fun evening with fun people!

Wednesday I went to San Antonio Academy, a private military school for boys. I gave three presentations, to their sixth, fourth, and fifth grades respectively, interrupted by a lunch with a select group of students. The school previously held an auction, and my new friend Thomas' parents won, so he and 11 of his friends joined me for pizza and Mexican food in the library. Thomas' very cool mother even brought a Thrones & Bones themed cookie cake from Great American Cookies. (I think next time I revise I need to add a page just for cakes!) This was my longest day, from 9am to 3pm, but a very fun and rewarding time. Thanks to librarian Elizabeth Snow for making it happen!

Wednesday night John Picacio and I went to dinner at Hot Joy, and Indian/Thai fusion restaurant, where we had edamame, spicy hot wings, and something called a Chicken Tikka Masala Taco, which wasn't really anything like chicken tikka masala or tacos but was absolutely delicious. Then we hit Bar 1919 for a quick drink. It was there that I discovered the pleasure of Prairie Artisan Ales' Bomb!, an imperial stout aged on coffee, chocolate, vanilla beans, and ancho chili peppers, and named a RateBeer Top 100 Beer in the World for three consecutive years!

But no rest for the wicked (or the good or the tipsy) because we were off to the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center to load in the first of the supplies for the incredible Worlds Beyond Gallery that John was helming. We worked for several hours loading in, then one of us at least called it a night.

Thursday John got me early, we ate breakfast burritos on the move, and then we spent the morning hanging about half of his gallery space. Then we rushed to the Keystone School, which John himself attended from 1st to 3rd grade, for two presentations to their third and fourth and then fifth and sixth grades respectively. It was so great that John got to see my presentation in a school that was formative for his own journey as a creator and artist! And in between presentations, library Carolyn Denny and Jeanette Vilagi, Head of Lower School, treated me to a fabulous lunch at La Fonda. (Thank you!)

Thursday night was preview night for Alamo City Comic Con, where I "helped" John in his booth. Then it was back to the con hotel, Hotel Indigo San Antonio-Riverwalk, where I had a drink with Bruce Coville, one of the six authors, myself including, coming in for the Young Adventurers programming. Bruce is the author of over 100 books! (I kept saying "over 60 books" but you know what, that's true too. 100 is more than 60.) He's also a charming, witty, funny, interesting guy and great writer.

Friday was the day-long Young Adventurers Writing Workshop, from 10:30 am to 8pm, featuring writing instruction from (in order) Matthew Cody, myself, Melissa Marr, Bruce Coville, Holly Black, and David Liss. I sat in on everyone else's workshop (as did most of us), and it was a fantastic day! Bruce blew us all away, both with his performance-based presentation and with his ability to remember every single
attendees name instantly. But everyone in that group is talented, funny, smart, and really cool, and I am so grateful for a weekend spent hanging out with them, friends all, old and new. Overall, it was a long day for authors and audience, but I think everyone came away feeling it had been a rewarding experience.  Then that night, the Young Adventurers headed out to Acenar again, for a wonderful end of evening wind-down. With guacamole. 

Saturday was the first of the open-to-all "Fan Days", two days of programming featuring all the authors above in celebration of middle grade fiction. We had some great panels, one of the highlights being Writing Process and Writing Schemes: How to Write One Million Words In Your Sleep, as well as Melissa Marr's weapons demonstrations. The day ended with a private party hosted by John Picacio and Sara Felix, president of ASFA,  for all the Worlds Beyond artists and Young Adventurers authors. So so glad John and Sara put our two groups together! And glad we got to hang with John, Todd Lockwood, Ruth Sanderson, Brom, Jeffrey Alan Love, and Peter Mohrbacher, amazing artists all!

Sunday was another day of Young Adventurers Fan Day programming, after which we were all well-and truly exhausted. I was in bed early and out even earlier. But what a convention, what a group of talented folks, and what a week!

Tremendous gratitude to Alfredo "Apple" De La Fuente, Wes Hartman, Austin Rogers, and everyone who made Alamo City Comic Con the amazing event that it was. You took great care of us and we really appreciated it. Also, a huge huge huge thank you to Andrew Torres, the Community Relations Manager at the Barnes & Noble Booksellers located at The Shops at La Cantera for facilitating book sales at every one of these events, for me for the week at the schools and reading council visits, and for all of us at Alamo City Comic Con. And finally, thank you to all the librarians, students, and fans who made this a phenomenal, unforgettable visit to a fantastic city!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Challenger Middle School

This past Wednesday, October 19th, I drove up to Huntsville, Alabama for a visit to Challenger Middle School. They were taking standardized tests all day, and I was the much-needed break. I gave three talks, to the sixth, seventh, and eight grade respectively, and had two lunches in between with select groups of students (one of which is pictured below). These lunches are always a highlight of school visits whenever they are held and Challenger was no exception. I had a great time. Thank you to Jennifer Prince, Library Media Specialists, my handler, teacher Dia Phillips (who took this great picture), to all the students and staff at Challenger, and bookseller Kim Brown-Barley from the Barnes & Noble on Carl T. Jones Parkway for facilitating sales of Frostborn, Nightborn, and Skyborn!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The World's Most Beautiful Thrones & Bones set

Readers of my Thrones & Bones series know that each book's appendices includes rules for an original board game, games that actually appear in and are important to the plot of their respective story. For the very first book, Frostborn, the game was called Thrones & Bones. A popular pastime among the people of Norrøngard in the world of Qualth, it is inspired by a real-world Viking game called hnefatafl. The rules borrow from several hnefatafl variants (no one knows how the actual Vikings played the game but there have been many diverse reconstructions) and add some new-to-Thrones & Bones elements that make it a unique game in its own right. In fact, I was deeply honored when Board Game Geek created a page for it christening Thrones & Bones a real game!

But one of the best things about being an author has been interacting with my fans and a real delight has been seeing the amazing Thrones & Bones fan-made sets that readers around the US and in the UK have created! Then, earlier this year, my good friend and fellow author J. F. Lewis (Staked, Grudgebearer) decided he wanted a really nice, wooden Thrones & Bones set. He commissioned an artist named Jack Windsor of Ignited Arts & Design to craft one. And suddenly the world's most beautiful Thrones & Bones set was born. And it held that position... until now!

Behold! This is a custom hand-made Thrones & Bones set, created for me by the very same Ignited Arts & Design. The board and pieces are all built and decorated by hand; all components made from hard maple wood.

The playing pieces are based on the designs done by Justin Gerard for the novel itself, while those dragons in the corner are inspired by a shield carried by my character Ynarr Ulfrson of Norrøngard, as drawn by Andrew Bosley. The Shield Maidens stand on raised spaces decorated with, what else, their shields, while the throne where the Jarl starts play features the Norse rune known as the Ægishjálmr, the Helm of Awe, a powerful symbol of protection. Meanwhile, the barrow mounds, the starting position for the Draug attackers, are decorated with the swords and axes that the playing pieces themselves wield.

Frankly, I'm blown away! Grateful to Jack Windsor for his talent and J.F. Lewis for being driven to finding him.

(And I'm happy for Lewis' set and mine to jointly hold the title of "Most Beautiful Set(s) in the World.")


Monday, September 19, 2016

The GM Showcase: Alchemy and Intrigue Along the Red River (Salt in Wounds)

This week, I'm one of the players on The GM Showcase podcast.  

"Alchemy and Intrigue Along the Red River" is a Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition role playing game being run by JM Perkins and featuring Chris Thompson, Phil Mainprize, Jeremy Land, and Yours Truly as the players.

The adventure takes place in and around Perkin's own creation, Salt in Wounds, an incredible city that was actually built on the back of a bound Tarrasque.  I'm playing Shestendeliath Orlamorn, a green dragonborn fifth level Herbwarden, a type of Alchemist, which is a character class created by Rich Howard and available on DriveThruRPG via Tribality Publishing.

This was a very fun adventure in a truly unique (and somewhat disturbing) world. Check it out! Be sure to check out the Salt in Wounds setting and the Alchemist class as well, and keep your eyes open for Perkin's forthcoming Kickstarter.