2017 NFC West

2016 Finish: Seattle, Arizona, Los Angeles, San Francisco

Overall Notes: Seattle is a great team. Then there’s the rest.

Seattle Seahawks
2016 Record: 10-5-1 (Pythagorean Wins: 9.8)
2016 Division Rank: 1st
2016 Injury Rank: 5th
2017 Age Rank: 13th
2016 DVOA Overall 11th (O/D/ST):  (16th / 5th / 15th)

Russell Wilson is a very good QB.He has a number of good targets like Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham. There are questions at RB and on the line, though. I think they’ll stay in the about the same range on offensive DVOA.

The defense is very good and the addition of Sheldon Richardson shouldn’t hurt. My big concern here is that their defensive backfield is getting up there in age. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman get dinged up, and that could be a major problem.

However, they are the class of the division. Even if they get hit by injuries, which I expect, they will still be 11-5 and win the division and fight for the first seed.

Los Angeles Rams
2016 Record: 4-12 (Pythagorean Wins: 3.3)

2016 Division Rank: 3rd
2016 Injury Rank: 1st
2017 Age Rank: 2nd
2016 DVOA Overall 30th (O/D/ST):  (32nd / 15th / 3rd)

Two players shape this season for the Rams, Jared Goff and Aaron Donald.

This team was awful on offense last year, but there’s a chance they’ll be much better this year simply because Jeff Fisher, one of the worst coaches ever, has finally gotten the pink slip he has deserved for years. Without Fisher, Goff has a chance to develop. If he does, then this offense could be pretty good, actually. Todd Gurley is a very good RB. I really like what they did with their WRs this year, especially adding Sammy Watkins. He’ll be hampered by a mediocre offensive line, though.

The defense was average last year, and that was in part because of how good Aaron Donald was. Take him out of the equation and there are problems, and he’s holding out. The good news is that the defense is young and might improve enough without him to stay about the same.

I think Goff takes a step forward and makes this team average on offense. Being one of the youngest teams in the league I think they steal a victory or two from older teams late in the year. If Donald comes back and plays well, they could even do a little better.

Still, this team has a long way to go. I think they show great improvement and end up 7-9.

Arizona Cardinals
2016 Record: 7-8-1 (Pythagorean Wins: 9.4)

2016 Division Rank: 2nd
2016 Injury Rank: 19th
2017 Age Rank: 32nd
2016 DVOA Overall 16th (O/D/ST):  (21st / 3rd / 30th)

Arizona has been a real popular pick. I don’t see it. Carson Palmer has to stay healthy for them to be great. He wasn’t all that good last year, though, and he’s 37. I think he’ll be mediocre at best, which is basically what he was last year even though he amassed 4233 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are weapons on this offense. David Johnson is fantastic. Larry Fitzgerald is a first ballot hall-of-famer and while he’s not at his peak he’s still very good. But even with all of that and a healthy Palmer, they were only 21st on offensive DVOA. They’ll be worse this year, and if Palmer goes down they’ll be really bad.

The defense is very good, as can easily be seen with the DVOA rank of 3rd. However, it’s old. *If* everyone stays healthy, this team will continue to have a good defense. If they get hit hard or if the veterans regress? They’ll step back. Combined with that offense, that’s a bad thing.

I’m really down on this team. I think 7-9 is their ceiling, and frankly I expect 5-11. Injuries will happen, and they have a razor thin margin.

San Francisco 49ers
2016 Record: 2-14 (Pythagorean Wins: 3.9)

2016 Division Rank: 4th
2016 Injury Rank: 24th
2017 Age Rank: 10th
2016 DVOA Overall 28th (O/D/ST):  (23rd / 28th / 17th)

Neither Brian Hoyer nor C.J. Beathard strike fear in anyone, except of course fans of their teams. The rest of the offense has a few good players, though Joe Staley is not as good as he once was. However, this will be one of the worst offenses in the NFL.

The defense will dramatically improve, though. DeForest Buckner was already turning into something. Add Arik Armstead, Ron Blair, and Solomon Thomas and you have a young and good defensive line. If Reuben Foster is healthy, they’ll be pretty good at linebacker. They’ve got some interesting backs too. I think this defense will be at least average, trending towards really good.

I don’t think the 49ers will improve much overall, though I think they’ll match this past year’s Pythagorean record and go 4-12. However, if they can make some improvements on the offense in future years, this defense can be impressive.

2017 NFC East

2016 Finish: Dallas, New York, Washington, Philadelphia

Overall Notes: This is the best division in football and it’s no contest. Look at their DVOAs, with the highest being 9th. And I think all the teams might have gotten better. Sheesh. They’ll beat each other up and might prevent the others from getting into the wildcard, though I think at least one of the wildcards will come from here.

Dallas Cowboys
2016 Record: 13-3 (Pythagorean Wins: 11.0)

2016 Division Rank: 1st
2016 Injury Rank: 16th
2017 Age Rank: 17th
2016 DVOA Overall 2nd (O/D/ST):  (3rd / 18th / 9th)

This was a great team last year. It was one of the best offenses around, had an average defense, and played good special teams. There’s a lot of uncertainty, but this team could be even better if things break right.

The biggest question mark is the status of Ezekiel Elliott. I won’t comment on the case, other than to say I expect there to be an injunction tomorrow and the case taking all year. He may serve the suspension, but not until next year.

The offense is loaded. One of the question marks is whether Dak Prescott will have a sophomore slump. This is wishful thinking. People have tried to suggest that last year was a fluke, but there’s nothing in the statistics that suggests that to be true. He was not a dink and dunk QB, as shown by the length of his passes. He was one of the best at limiting interceptable passes. He made good decisions and attacked the defense successfully. That will continue.

The WRs are fantastic and deep. The RBs other than Elliott are pretty good. The TEs are solid. The offensive line has a couple of question marks but I think it’ll be even better than last year by the end of the year.

The defense is chock full of moving parts and questions. Many announcers see this and the lack of a star other than possibly Sean Lee, leading them to think this is a bad defense. It’s not. It’s average, but it can be even better. They lost a lot of snaps from last year’s team, but none of those snaps came from top tier players. They replaced them with young, unproven players and while they’ll make mistakes, they’ll do better at the end of the year.

I can see this defense be dominating, yes dominating, at the end of the year. I can also see it lose a game or two, especially at the beginning of the year where there are so many more question marks.

13-3 is hard to repeat though. I think the Cowboys will be better and finish with an 11-5 record. This will win the division and make them the 2nd seed.

Washington Redskins
2016 Record:  8-7-1 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.3)

2016 Division Rank: 3rd
2016 Injury Rank: 28th
2017 Age Rank: 15th
2016 DVOA Overall 9th (O/D/ST):  (5th / 25th / 13th)

The Redskins are the inverse of the Giants. It’s a great offense with Kirk Cousins and a number of excellent targets in Terrelle Pryor, Josh Doctson, Jamison Crowder, and Jordan Reed (if he can stay healthy). They run well enough, and I did not want them to get Samaje Perine. Trent Williams makes that line at least solid.

Will the defense improve? I think so, with additions like Jonathan Allen, Terrell McClain, Fabian Moreau, and Ryan Anderson. It won’t improve much, but get more in the 16th range. League average, in other words.

This was a good team last year. I think it’s better this year, especially since I think they’ll be healthier. I think they are definitely 10-6, maybe 11-5 and a wildcard team.

New York Giants
2016 Record:  11-5 (Pythagorean Wins: 8.8)

2016 Division Rank: 2nd
2016 Injury Rank: 7th
2017 Age Rank: 9th
2016 DVOA Overall 8th (O/D/ST):  (22nd / 2nd / 11th)

The only way I see this team dropping off is if Eli Manning does dramatically worse. I would actually be surprised, even though he’s 36. He was mediocre at best last year, anyway. The offense looks better than it is because of Odell Beckham, Jr. and some big plays. However, they’re very inconsistent and Manning threw 16 interceptions, which is bad but about his norm. The offensive DVOA reflects that. Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram will help, but I doubt they’ll get any better in real terms.

However, the defense is young and great. I want to find a reason for the defense to take a step back. I can’t find it. They are on their downward curve, but closer to their peak than retirement. They may drop a bit, but only to 5th in defensive DVOA.

This team will do really well again. They’ll have a few more injuries than last year, I suspect, but at least 9-7. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re 10-6 and a wildcard team.

Philadelphia Eagles
2016 Record: 7-9 (Pythagorean Wins: 9.0)

2016 Division Rank: 4th
2016 Injury Rank: 4th
2017 Age Rank: 23rd
2016 DVOA Overall 5th (O/D/ST):  (20th / 4th / 2nd)

Ah, the Eagles. They’ve added some help on offense for Carson Wentz, but not as much as people think. I was not a fan of Wentz last year. He didn’t play as well as many people think, but he was very good for a rookie. I think he’ll be better, but I don’t see the offense improving much.

The defense was great and got a lot of help in the draft. I was not happy with their draft, though not all of it will arrive this year with Sidney Jones’s injury. Still, Derek Barnett and Rasul Douglas will add some youth to the defense.

The one place where I see the Eagles regressing is on Special Teams, and that’s in part because Darren Sproles is 34. He’ll fall of a cliff soon, though he’s been a fantastic player.

I think the Eagles will take an overall step back, but not by much. They’ll still have a 7-9 record or so, but that’ll match their Pythagorean.

Rob’s Update: Surviving the Dragon

Week of 3-9 September

Well, I survived DragonCon. I have an AAR up at: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=798. The TL:DR version: the logistics of 80,000 people in downtown Atlanta limit the fun, but there’s still lots of fun to be had.

Now I’m back home, sorta. We found a house and put in a bid. In fact, I signed the accepted counter-offer while in Atlanta. We went through the inspection yesterday and, for a house built in the early 50s, it’s in fantastic shape. There are quibbles here and there, and a couple of things we’re going to ask from the sellers, but by and large, nothing we can’t fix.

Exciting times.

Now we just have to make sure the financing goes through correctly. I get there are reasons for all of this but man this process is frustrating.

As for writing, I’ve done a little here and there, but for the time being it’s going to be iffy. Between the move and planned trips, time has been an issue. I did manage to get a good start on a particular thread while at DragonCon, though.

Now, the time has given some ideas a chance to percolate, so it’s not been unfruitful. Also, I’ve come up with a good short story idea that I’ve been dabbling with. I can’t finish it until I get access to my books, which are currently packed up, though.

The big news next week is that my opportunity to be “And More” will arrive as For a Few Credits More will be released on the 15th. I’ll have a link for you next week.

Tonight, the NFL season starts. I’m so ready. I’ll be writing my NFL Preview during the game so expect that post late tonight.

Quote of the Week

I’m not a huge Neil Gaiman fan. Yes, I know that makes me a heretic. However, I do love this quote.

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
Neil Gaiman, Coraline

News and Works in Progress

  • New short story. It’s a secret 🙂
  • Brief Is My Flame (12k)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

While Van Allen Plexico let me have space at DragonCon, it was Brett Brooks and his wife Allyson who did much of the work manning the booth. You can find Brett’s Facebook author page here: https://www.facebook.com/brettbrooksauthor/. He has a fun and whimsical take on the Noir detective.

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

Currently Available Works

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

DragonCon AAR

Greetings all

I have survived my first DragonCon. It’s probably not my last one, but I have to have a good reason to go back.

Much of DragonCon is fantastic. Lots of incredible costumes. Lots of cool stuff to buy. Lots of interesting panels. Lots of celebrities. Lots of parties. All of this is great.

Thanks to the generosity of Van Allen Plexico and Brett Brooks, my books were on display in the Artists Alley section. None sold, but a bunch of bookmarks were given out. It can’t hurt, and since I didn’t actually pay anything it’s a net win.

I got to see several friends up for Dragon Awards. Some won, some lost, but it’s still cool to realize the quality of writers I’m earning a place among. I had a great time hanging out with Barflies. I should have actually spent more time with them and other writers and publishers.

The Hyatt House, where I stayed, had a fantastic staff, and my roommates, who I’d never met prior to Thursday, were all pleasant to deal with, even though five of us squeezed into a suite.

I gamed a lot, playing in four Pathfinder Society scenarios including two specials, which are a blast. I also played in an ad-hoc game on Thursday which was hilarious. I was the second to die. This will come as no shock but it was because my character couldn’t keep his mouth shut. I also played in some random games in the large gaming area. Cards Against Humanity is always fun, especially with the alcohol flowing, and DragonCon is one huge party.

But the execution of the event seemed oddly amateurish. As if this wasn’t the 30th time they ran this, but the first or second.

For example, I spent most of my time gaming once I figured out I wouldn’t be needed in a booth. I decided to play Pathfinder Society, and so I looked for PFS registration area. This was on the 2nd floor of America’s Mart Building 1, in the far corner, about as far from the entrance as could be.

That’s not necessarily a problem, but the directions on the boards and the app weren’t terribly clear, and the actual Pathfinder Society games were on the 1st floor of that building. There was room enough for the registration area to be in that same room, but for some reason they chose to put those tables up a floor on the other side of a big building.

Since the biggest complaint I have relates to traffic control, it will come as no surprise I look at this particular weirdness as emblematic of the con. All of those who wanted to just play Pathfinder Society could have been arranged in one particular area, but by setting things up as they did, it added congestion at the one set of escalators available.

Unfortunately, this was not the worst traffic control mistake they made. DragonCon runs along a ridge in downtown Atlanta. The hill is substantial, but there are walkways between buildings and other things that ameliorate such problems. Still, it’s not easy to get around, and climbing up and down that ridge can suck.

The vendors were all placed in the America’s Mart, Building 2, which  was a fine choice in many ways. It certainly had room enough. However, it was located at the far end of the con at the bottom of the ridge. Again, with walkways and such it’s not a big deal. Also, the main entrance was on the upper side of the building, which was closest to the other convention buildings.

But there was apparently a problem with this arrangement and in the middle of the con they suddenly shunted all access to the vendors to the downhill, farther side of the building. This meant you had to go up three extra sets of escalators. Oh, and those walkways? They closed them off.

Let me repeat. In the middle of the con they closed off all entrances to the building that held the vendors but the farthest, least convenient entrance possible.

All of the maps that said where to go to see the vendors became instantly wrong. Few of the people doing traffic control knew the exact directions. To get to the vendors, one had to hunt at the far end of the con to find the one way in.

This is again where the amateurish appearance comes to the forefront. It is not like they haven’t used these buildings before. It is, after all, the 30th time they’ve had this event in Atlanta. I get that it has grown and they’ve had to adjust, but it seems incredible to me that they couldn’t anticipate the traffic flow.

By comparison, GenCon, which is similar in size, manages all of this nicely. It’s busy and there are people everywhere, but you know where to go and they are much more efficient with their traffic flow.

I get it. I get that 80,000 people are hard to deal with. However, closing off all but one of the six or so available entrances to a huge building does not seem like a good answer to me. They also did this to America’s Mart Building 1, which held all of the gaming.

Clearly they could afford people to check badges at every door, because all of the closed entrances had people stationed there turning attendees away. No, for some reason, they were convinced that restricting access to one door on each of these two buildings would provide the most efficient traffic flow.

Given that I spent most of the con in these two buildings, I’m particularly frustrated by this. I will say, other parts of the con might have had better traffic flow, though it didn’t seem like it from what little I saw. I saw a lot of miscommunication amongst people working the con. Some confusion is to be expected, but not as much as I saw, especially related to traffic flow.

Again, I should emphasize that there was much to enjoy. Best cosplay con I’ve seen, no doubt. I really enjoyed the gaming that played.

But they do not seem to have a good handle on the logistics of 80,000 people. It’s a tough thing, alright, but other places have managed.

Perhaps the answer is to move DragonCon to Indianapolis, which could handle it just like it handles GenCon. Maybe there are solutions in Atlanta. I don’t know enough to even guess at solutions. What I do know is that their ConCom needs to figure that out.

Will I go back? Maybe. I’m inquiring on different room options and prices for next year to weigh the choice. I’m likely to go if I’m ever fortunate enough to be a finalist for a Dragon Award. I do have friends there I enjoy, including some new gaming friends.

There’s definitely fun to be had at DragonCon, but it’s an open question whether it’s worth the expense and hassle. We shall see.

Rob’s Update: Off to DragonCon

Weeks of 20 August – 2 September

Greetings all

Sorry I didn’t make a post last week. I spent most of last week up in Omaha looking at houses. We’re going to put in a bid later today, I think, depending upon the details. We’ll see how it goes. In past houses, I’ve been on a serious time crunch. I’ve a lot more time flexibility now, so I’m not as inclined to bid full price now. I don’t necessarily expect to get a yes on the first offer, but you never know.

Anyway, it’s an exciting time.

I did write a bit, but it was more in the way of refining stuff that had already been done, so I’m still hovering around 10k on Brief Is My Flame.

My weekend was filled with an SCA event near Omaha. Giulia and I camped, which meant we got a chance to hang out with friends much more than we have recently. We’re also in the process of combining our camping resources, and that’s been somewhat humorous as we both have our ways of doing things. Unfortunately, it rained on Sunday morning, so Giulia has deal with spreading out, drying, and folding a bunch of wet canvas.

She has to deal with it because I leave for my first DragonCon tomorrow.

I’ll probably spend a goodly amount of time at Table 22G. Van Allen Plexico and Brett Brooks have generously offered me a corner of their booth to place my books. Come buy something from all of us.

The rest of my time I’ll be pretty feral. I’ll probably see if I can play in a Pathfinder Society scenario or two. Maybe some panels. Be at Barfly Central a lot. I don’t have any real schedule so I can actually enjoy a con for a change.

I’m also excited to go watch the Dragon Awards, where a number of friends are nominees, especially the military SF/F category. I voted for Cartwright’s Cavaliers by Mark H Wandrey. Frankly, this category was full of books I enjoyed, but the tiebreaker was that it’s the first in Four Horsemen Universe. Yes, I’m now a part of it, so I’m biased, but this is already becoming an awesome sandbox and there’s lots more to come. However, it was a tough choice, given the competition. One of these days I’ll have a military fantasy series set in Shijuren, and I can hope I’ll be in this list myself.

I’m ready to get this party started.

Quote of the Week

Instead of a normal quote like most works, I’ll send you to a Twitter hashtag feed, which is a list of whimsical quotes overheard at DragonCon:

https://twitter.com/hashtag/overheardatdragoncon?src=hash

You shouldn’t need a Twitter account to see that list, by the way.

News and Works in Progress

  • Brief Is My Flame

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

As I said, Van Allen Plexico has graciously allowed me to put my books on a corner of his DragonCon table. If you come by the table, make sure to take a look at his stuff. For those not at DragonCon, here’s his Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Van-Allen-Plexico/e/B002QISYCA/.

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

Currently Available Works

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Rob’s Update: Spreading the Word

Week of 13-19 August

What an eventful week so far!

First, I’ve added those who signed up at Pennsic. Many thanks for all who talked to me there, and I am already looking forward to Pennsic 47. Welcome to my weekly slice of Robness.

The biggest news is that one of the short stories I’ve been mentioning for a while was just accepted to be part of the For a Few Credits More, the second anthology in the Four Horsemen Universe.

The 4HU is one where humanity is one of hundreds of alien races living a loose arrangement whose sole goal is to ensure that the overall peace is maintained. Within that, however, are all sorts of smaller conflicts involving mercenaries, and the universe centers around these mercs fighting in a Byzantine universe of plotting and treachery.

I love it.

You can find these books here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B074KHFMQT?ref=series_rw_dp_labf

The cover is here.

FAFCM Cover
Cover for the Four Horsemen anthology For a Few Credits More.

I’ve never been more excited to be called “AND MORE” in my life.

But that’s not the only exciting thing going on here. Rob Saladino will begin recording A Lake Most Deep in audiobook form starting around 1 September. He’ll be doing my other Shijuren novels soon after, too. I don’t yet have any clue when actual release dates will be, because it takes time to do all of this well, but they are a-comin’.

In less productive news, because of my travel schedule, the move, and recovery from Pennsic, I’ve not done much other than lie in bed and contemplate bad things happening to my characters in Brief Is My Flame.

I’m just going to say that I think my characters would prefer me to sit and write than lie and plot, because I’m much nastier to them in the middle of the night snuggled in my bed with my cat sitting on my head than I am typing on my laptop. Far nastier.

Quote of the Week

This week’s quote sort of encapsulates my writing philosophy. I write about people, and whether they are wizards or use fusion-powered starships or wear powered armor, stories are about people.

“War has changed little in principle from the beginning of recorded history. The mechanized warfare of today is only an evolution of the time when men fought with clubs and stones, and its machines are as nothing without the men who invent them, man them and give them life. War is force- force to the utmost- force to make the enemy yield to our own will- to yield because they see their comrades killed and wounded- to yield because their own will to fight is broken. War is men against men. Mechanized war is still men against men, for machines are masses of inert metal without the men who control them- or destroy them.”
Ernest J. King, as quoted in the prologue (page viii) of his memoirs, Fleet Admiral King: A Naval Record (1952).

News and Works in Progress

  • Brief Is My Flame (about 10k)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

  • Nothing yet this week, but will have some additions to the Wiki tomorrow

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

This week’s Spotlight is on Rob Saladino , who is recording my audiobooks. His IMDB page is here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5238545/ and his Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/thehumblereview. If you go there, you’ll see he recently recorded a biography about Prince. I suspect this is the closest I’ll ever get to Prince.

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

Currently Available Works

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Rob’s Update: Tired Rob Is Tired

Week of 6-12 August

One of my favorite Pennsics ever comes to a close today.

The weather has been incredibly nice. Cool, with only a little rain, and yet still lots of cloud cover. The merchant booth has been profitable, productive, and fun. I’ve had a great time singing, and got to see some wonderful things given to fun people.

But at the end of two weeks, especially with packing in all sorts of stuff in the final few days, I must say I’m ready to be home.

It’s been so busy here that I’ve barely had time to write, so I’m only about 10000 words into Brief Is My Flame, but since that means more sales, I am quite pleased. I’m also pleased where the story lines are going. Yes, I’ve done more plotting than usual, but that doesn’t mean the plot is static.

As I did with Where Now the Rider, I’ll be steadily adding a few entries to the Wiki each week. I think these might be a little more revealing, though, as some of the new storylines are coming from different places. We’ll be exploring more of Svellheim, the Seven Kingdoms, the Western Isles, and the Kreisens, so we’ll all get to find out interesting stuff about those places as the plot takes me there.

I love Shijuren. It’s a fun and interesting world and there’s so much more to come.

Quote of the Week

One of my favorite aspects of Pennsic, and the SCA in general, is the opportunity to sing at bardic circles. This week’s quote comes from a Kipling poem which we have turned to song.

For we hold that in all disaster
Of shipwreck, storm, or sword,
A Man must stand by his Master
When once he has pledged his word.
– Song of the Red War Boat
, Rudyard Kipling

News and Works in Progress

  • Brief Is My Flame (About 10k)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

I watched Consortium of Genius perform at ConFluence. They were a lot of fun and surprisingly metal. Most bands at SF/F cons are acoustic in nature, but these guys played their music loud and hard. I had a blast, though I think some of the other people were a bit bemused. I especially enjoyed Think Tank and Middle-earth Needs Me.

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell
Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

Currently Available Works

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Pennsic Musings

The last few days of Pennsic are exhausting for me, but they’re also some of my favorite days of the year.

Pennsic generally runs from the last weekend of July to the second weekend of August. The two weeks are named Peace Week and War Week, and they are both wonderful but for completely different reasons.

I often say that Peace Week is the only vacation in the SCA. For those who have never come to an SCA event, you may not realize just how busy and full these events are. You get up in time to do whatever your daily activity might be, which includes classes, projects, fighting, fencing, archery, and equestrian events. Then you shower, get some food, and get ready for whatever the afternoon brings, and this can be laid back (I often take naps), but often involves camaraderie and story-telling. In the evening, the king and queen have a court where they give people stuff, and there’s often a hand-made feast. Then you get to the serious socializing.

That’s a long day, and that’s merely the schedule of a day-long event. Pennsic and other longer events stack similar days, though the royalty only has court on some days, not all. There are other ceremonies though, and every night one group or another hosts a party or a bardic circle or some sort of gathering.

In Peace Week, all of the things that make the SCA fun are available, but it’s far more relaxed. You *can* do anything. You also can choose to not do anything. The Pennsic after I went to Macedonia and England in 2006 I was exhausted, and one night I went to bed at 2:30pm. Not a nap. “I’m going to bed, see you guys in the morning.”

Of course, there was the time that I ran into a close friend I only see at Pennsic at around 5:30am on the way to the port-a-johns and after we did our business, we went back to my shade fly and opened a beer. Then we had another. Then someone else came by and had a beer. By around 9am we’d started doing projects… and drinking. I don’t know that anyone actually got drunk, but I finally went to sleep at 4am. A good day, and the kind of thing that happens in Peace Week.

War Week, on the other hand, is full of all the things and you want to do everything. Sleep is for the weak… next week.

For me, the real busy time begins on Wednesday, with Midnight Madness. That’s an exhausting, but fun and profitable evening.

Thursday is even busier. This is the day that Calontir’s king and queen hold Their court. Following court, we host our yearly party. Over the last dozen years or so I’ve been one of the ones primarily tasked with  arranging the bar. I got lots of help, but it’s still a goodly amount of work.

Also, I volunteered to be the herald for court, which means I called in people for Their Majesties and read the scrolls. This is one of my favorite jobs in the SCA, and is a fun honor, but another task on what is clearly a busy day.

Today, we recover from the party, but at the same time we start packing up. My plan is to be on the road at some point on Saturday. What I have to get done between now and then is take the kegs back to the distributor, get my books and booth packed up, and then tomorrow tear my tent down.

Fortunately, I have no specific time or place to get to on Saturday, so I will just do the work and not hurry. Earlier is better, of course, but even just staying at a hotel down the street makes the drive doable.

The end is nigh, and getting nigher by the moment. Thank goodness.

We’re MADDDDDDD!

At many of the big SCA events like Pennsic, Gulf Wars, Great Western, and Estrella they pick one night, usually Wednesday, to have Midnight or Moonlight Madness with the vendors.

This is an eminently practical thing in many ways, as these events are filled with things to do during the day like fighting, fencing, archery, classes, and the making of many different items. Frankly, many people hardly have a chance to shop during the day, so we pick a day where every merchant is open until midnight and we offer a variety of specials.

On nights like last night it can be magical. It was cool, mostly clear, and the moon was almost full. About as lovely as a night can be, in my opinion. On such a night, thousands of people roam the merchant areas chatting, shopping, and generally having a good time.

As I say, magical.

As I have mentioned before, Master Andrixos graciously allows me to sell from his shop, Calontir Trim. Last year we had fun playing up the MADDDDDDD! of Midnight Madness. We had so much fun, we wanted to get even MADDDDDDDER.

So we did.

One of Andrixos’s personal traditions is that Midnight Madness actually begins when he puts on this hideous Hawaiian-print Byzantine-style tunic of the reign of King Ragnar Kamehamehason. It is embellished with a trim that has longships sailing in front of a island with palm trees. He’s been having fun with this running joke for over twenty years now.

This year, he requested that I provide a tunic of appropriate MADDDDDNESS to match, and he provided the shop girls with their own outfits as well.

This is the result:

Midnight Madness
The uniforms of Calontir Trim at Midnight Madness

So, last night we were especially MADDDDDD! at Midnight Madness.

I had a great time selling in my little section of the shop, as you can see here:

Midnight Madness Setup
My setup at Midnight Madness

It’s a lot of fun, I meet lots of people, and sell lots of books. What more can I hope for?

So, when you see me post something about impending MADDDDDNESS, now you know.

ConFluence AAR

Greetings all

This weekend I left Pennsic and went about 45 minutes south to ConFluence. It was a very busy weekend for me.

It started with panel about genre blending. Obviously, this provided me an opportunity to talk about the fun of adding mystery to swords and sorcery, as I do in the Edward series.

Following that was a reading. Again, I did the portion from I Am a Wondrous Thing. It went well, better than the last time I did it. I know I got some sales from it.

Friday evening was generally laid back. Much of my time was spent in the TV Gods: Summer Programming release party chatting with Lee Hillman, an editor of the TV Gods series and a friend of mine. It was a very enjoyable time, especially since they got a pack of various IPAs to share.

Saturday morning started with my signing session at 10am. At that hour, I didn’t expect much, but this was the most successful signing session I’ve ever had.

After that, I had a bit of a break until my next session. I spend much of that time trying to write. Not my best writing session, mostly because my mind kept wandering, but it wasn’t completely unproductive.

Starting at 2pm, I had three sessions in four hours. The first was perhaps the most intimidating for me, a discussion of exoplanets and how we can use them in our fiction. It was intimidating because everyone else on the panel were astrophysicists or geologists, except for the guy who was both a scientist and an artist. Then there’s me. Still, I held my own, because to a certain extent, the philosophy of things is always relevant, and I am a philosopher.

One fascinating thing came out of the discussion that I must mention. I do not generally like elves and dwarves and such in my worlds. For someone who writes fantasy, I don’t like magic to be, well, magical. I want everything grounded in a scientific basis. This, by the way, is why I was chosen for the panel in the first place.

However, one person at the end, and I’m sorry I didn’t get her name, pointed out that throughout the panel we’d been focused on the macro side of things, not the micro end. As often happens for me, the right thing said at the right time helps my mind make a jump and I finally have a justification for elves.

What if elves are the result of a micro-organism that causes a mutation? That makes sense to me, and maybe I’ll add them to Shijuren after all. I’ve already got some plans from interesting mutations that already exist in the human genome, but it’s nice to have more options.

I moderated my next panel. This one discussed writing in someone else’s sandbox. Since I’d like to turn Shijuren into a sandbox, I wanted very much to participate in this so I was happy to moderate the panel. I think the most important thing we decided was that all participants need to respect the sandbox and its contributors. People who just jump in without that interest and respect show up all too obviously.

At 5pm I participated in a whimsical panel where we created Vogon poetry. This year’s theme was the limerick, so we created a number of those. Yes, we had one that started, “There once was a Vogon from Nantucket.”

The one limerick I can remember off the top of my head went:

There was a Vogon named orange
Who gurgled one morning in purple
He heard a mime rail
About the slime trail
Amidst callipygian silver

I will say, it didn’t make my intestine want to strangle me, so I think we’ll need to do better.

Saturday evening I watched Consortium of Genius’s show. They were a lot of fun and surprisingly metal. Most bands at SF/F cons are acoustic in nature, but these guys played their music loud and hard. I had a blast, though I think some of the other people were a bit bemused. I especially enjoyed Think Tank and Middle-earth Needs Me.

I had met the lead singer and the bassist earlier in the day because we are all Rush fans. In the category of small worlds, I found out they are friends with Beth Waggoner Patterson, who I’ve met at other cons who is also a Rush fan. Had I not known ahead of time that the bassist was a Rush fan, I would have guessed after hearing his complex bass lines. Good stuff.

Sunday morning involved two sessions. The first at 10am discussed the Ten-Volume Trilogy. We all shared our own experiences with our worlds taking a life of their own. Yeah, that means lot of stuff to come in Shijuren.

The last thing I did at the con was a Kaffeeklatsch where I discussed the Martin Koszta Affair again and how I can use it to inspire fiction. I was shocked to have so many attendees, actually, as the way they set these up they were designed to be intimate discussions involving less than ten people. I believe I got a full dozen, who seemed to really enjoy what I did. I’ll keep doing this panel as long as people keep enjoying it.

After that I got back on the road to return to Pennsic as quickly as I could. I enjoyed ConFluence quite a bit, but I was ready to get back to the Middle Ages.

Opinions and fiction of person misplaced in time.