Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My Board Game Obsession

Alright, I guess it's fair to say I'm a bit obsessed with board games. It all started when I was a wee-lad, my aunt bought me my first board game - 'Mouse Trap!'

Since then, it's been a fun ride. Years spent playing Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly, Scattergories... it was a great time to be alive! 

Alright, I'll calm down. 

Soon, the board game obsession gave way to video games. Video games were faster and more challenging than any board game I could find. It was sad in a way. I missed the camaraderie playing a board game with friends and family brought. Camping out around a table, drinks, chips, laughing, cheating, arguments. But board games couldn't keep up with technology. Games like Monopoly, and the like, grew stale and static. I longed for something more...

Years later, I decided to search the internet for anything fresh. I searched 'challenging board games' - 'nerdy board games' - 'geeky board games' - anything to peek my interest. 

It seemed while I was busy playing video games, a whole world of board games arrived on the scene. Board games that catered to the nerd in me. I grabbed my card and ordered the first one that jumped out at me.
This game was perfect for someone jumping into a new genre - simple rules, cool to look at, and the game play was fast. There's also many expansion packs to keep it fresh. But soon. my brain craved more strategy. Something to stir the pot a bit.
This game... 
Catan is STILL a favorite of mine. Me and my friends play for hours, 4 games a night if we get together early enough. And like Carcassonne, Catan's board changes every game, keeping things fresh. You have to think 3 to 4 steps ahead, make deals with people, and sometimes steal. And again, there are expansion packs to make the board more challenging.

But again, the board game gods grow weary, even of their favorite games. You must keep feeding the beast! 

Then, one day while perusing the board game isle of my local store... I was feeling a bit nostalgic. That was when THIS game caught my eye...
 This, my friends, is a three-tier Monopoly board. Yeah, you heard me... three monopoly style boards stacked on top of each other, each smaller than the next. It's an amazing play on a classic game. And it's insane to play. 

Remember how long Monopoly took, times that by three. Yeah, it's not for the faint at heart.

Then, one rainy fall day, a distant friend from far away lands introduced us to a game without a board. Sacrilege, you say? I beg to differ.
 This card-based game was a fresh, eye-opening moment for me. I never really understood, or got into such games as a kid, but Munchkin consumed me and my friends like fire rushing through a drought-stricken forest. And Munchkin has so many versions and expansions that it's almost impossible to keep track. 

And bonus... most are compatible with each other!

 The cards are fun and unique, and the game-play is long enough to keep everyone interested. You can often squeeze in several games a night. And there's always room for more players, as long as you have enough cards.

As of present, me and my friends have been cycling back and forth between Catan and Munchkin (the Cthulhu version). Though, whispers in the dark seem to be leading us back to an old favorite...

Dude, you need to beef-up Iceland.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Constructive Criticism (Your Best Friend)

Criticism... is such a dirty word. Or is it honesty? Billy Joel? Where's my glasses?

Constructive Criticism is something all writers ask for, receive, then bitch about when they get it. HA! You know it's true. 
(I'm just kidding around, relax.)

Like most writers, I had to learn to, not only, take criticism, but to harness it in a way that would make me a better writer... and person.
(feel free to criticize that horrible sentence) 
I had a writing partner for years, so learning to take constructive criticism, and just criticism in general, was a must to survive. Yes, we argued. Yes, we often disagreed. But... more often than not, our opinions and arguments would spark an idea and make the writing even better. 

Every writer knows three truths:

1. Everybody has an opinion
2. Your mom telling you your writing is 'great' isn't helping you in any way. 
3. Often... the truth hurts. But, it's a good hurt.

I know, nobody wants to hear that their main character is too boring, or that their idea isn't well developed, or that their story is too long or short, or that their story needs to be reworked because, "I can't understand what's going on." But guess what... it's probably true, especially if you hear it from more than one person. 

Now, there's only two things you can do about it

You can pout and tell yourself, "They don't understand what you're trying to do."


You can take the constructive criticism and harness it to make your writing better!

Here's a dirty little secret

The things 'they' often point out are almost always things YOU ALREADY KNOW NEED WORK!

 When I was writing 'A SPACE STORY' I was lucky enough to have a solid group of friends around me, willing to give me constructive criticism. I would ask them to read my draft... Then beg them... Then threaten them. Eventually, they would read it. After a few months, and some more begging, we would get together and discuss what worked, what didn't work, what made no sense at all, and "what I was thinking" trying to write a book. 

And here's how it went...
9 of the 10 things pointed out to me were things I KNEW NEEDED WORK. Most criticisms were about chapters that even I hated to read, chapters I hoped to bury and maybe go back to tweak later. 

Yes... when they said it, it burned me up inside. But I wasn't mad at them, because I knew they were right. If it wasn't for them being honest in their criticism, my story would suffer. 

I hate having to go back and change things in my stories. 


But, I wrote down all their opinions, changed the things I knew needed work, pondered the things I was on the fence about, and came up with some fresh ideas along the way.

It was hard to fix everything, I had worked so hard. I didn't want to go back and mess things up. I wanted my friends to be like my mom - tell me it's the greatest thing they ever read, and how they just KNEW it was going to become the next Harry Potter!
 (refer to number 2 for a reality check)  

But they didn't. Instead, they said, "This is what you have to do, in order to even get a few people to read this drivel." 
(Okay, it wasn't that bad, but it felt like it at the time.) 

And in the end, it made the story so much better.

Understand this: The people criticizing your story are your audience. You are writing a story to entertain your audience. If your audience isn't entertained, then you need to fix your story. 
(If you aren't writing your story to entertain... then skip this part.)

Constructive Criticism is a WIN-WIN!  

We are better writers because of those who are brave enough to give us their honest opinion. You can't thank them enough. 

So, to you I say:
"Seek out those who are critical of your work, for you may not agree with all they say, but you may find truth in their words." 
(this is best said in a Patrick Stewart'ish type accent)

Now go fix that horrible chapter you hated since you first wrote it. And if you need help, I'll gladly tell you it sucks, so you will get mad at me, and then fix it. :)

Monday, June 1, 2015

My First Book Signing

This past weekend, I had my very first book signing.

The event took place at the Jackson Library in New Jersey, and ended up being both a great time, and one heck of a learning experience.

From the get-go, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I'd spent the night before rehearsing and worrying about what I should bring.

Then, it was time...
 I packed up my stuff and headed out the door, a stranger in a strange land.

Aside from me and a few others, most of the authors at the event had been doing this for years. Most had personalized table cloths and stacks of 'ready to be signed' books for the masses. While I struggled with how close to put my free bookmarks to my novel, they hummed along like a fine tuned machine. It was pretty awesome.

We were given an hour to set up (it took me about five minutes) and mingle with the other authors. There were a few familiar faces at the other tables, friends from a local writing group I attended on a semi-regular basis. Everyone else was a stranger to me. 

Strangers, until we got to talking. 

Everyone was friendly, and eager to hand out advice. We shared stories about how we got here, pondered how many people would show up, and discussed our shared dread of speaking in front of a crowd. I also ended up buying quite a few books from some amazing authors.

 And when it was my turn to get up and talk in front of the crowd, well... I must admit, I can't really remember what I said. 

I'm pretty sure I performed my "rehearsed the night-before" routine. I know I messed up saying the word "exhumed" while reading from my own book. I also realized I need practice looking at the crowd while I talk.

I also had to pee really bad, which I chose to resolve at the podium, by letting everyone know that I had to go pee really bad. 
(Talk about an ice-breaker.)

All part of the learning experience, I suppose.

Here Are Some Things I Learned:

You must learn to talk in front of people
Nobody seems to think they're good, or feels comfortable with, talking in front of a crowd. In fact, the ones I enjoyed listening to most seemed to think they were the worst. This made me feel more comfortable with my uncomfortableness. 
Develop a routine
Most people had a fine-tuned routine that they perfected over time. Some told a joke to break the ice, others told stories about their lives. Some did both. Either way, a routine seemed to be the key to getting your point across, and keeping the crowd engaged.
Set a time - don't talk too long
I noticed the most effective authors (determined by who kept my attention the longest) were those who did the above in under ten minutes - including a short reading from one of their books.
Relax, and be yourself
The most effective authors were those who were best at selling themselves. If I liked the author, I was more inclined to check out their work. If someone came off as fake, I lost interest.
I said, "relax, and be yourself!"
The authors with the most passion for their work were the ones that stood out. Be yourself, and the rest will fall into place.

In the end, it was a great experience. I met a ton of new people, sold a good amount of books, discovered some awesome new authors, and learned a lot from some old pros. And I can't be more thankful.

I'm looking forward to the next!
 Hope to see you there!

Don't Eat the Grot!