Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Adding Magic and Adventure Back into the Classroom

I've been writing nearly all my life. Embarrassing short stories and rambling novels printed out on perforated computer paper from my high school days still haunt my book shelves and closets. I'm pretty certain that I still have the original floppy discs floating around somewhere, too, just in case I ever get the urge to dust off the old Apple IIc and do some late night editing, I suppose. Published at seventeen, my inflated ego thought I could write no wrong. A healthy collection of rejection letters over the course of a few years helped to put that ego in check, but I would give anything to know then what I do now.

I can't help the seventeen year old me. He's as locked in time as those poor stories hiding away in my closet. But I can help the aspiring writers of today.

Since publishing my first book, I have sought ways to bring both my fiction and personal experiences into the classroom setting. A marriage of my two passions, teaching and writing, came about naturally and I've found great value in being able to use these first-hand experiences both to educate, enlighten, and humor my high school students. There is much to learn both from my success and from my numerous mistakes along the way. Threading its way through my series--from fiction to comics to the role-playing game--are educational tools that are relevant to the high school-aged audience I've become so familiar with in my role as a teacher.

The Fiction

Reading and literacy are serious issues plaguing our education system. Getting kids to invest in a book is a
tough sell, no matter what age group you teach, or how good you are at teaching. Let's face it, the competition is fierce. Even the greatest book has to contend with Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook (just to name a few), all of which make the individual the main character of their own open-ended novel.

Currently I have four published works of fiction with another one on the way. All range in page count from very large (over 600 pages) to short and sweet (less than 100 pages). The books are not written as "young adult" fiction, but as a high school educator, I was sure to layer in teachable content that would be engaging in the classroom setting. Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey provides a basic structure and mythological connections, thematic writing binds characters, actions, and setting together, strong examples of characterization as well as  "setup" and "payoff" permeate the writing, and American Heritage Dictionary's The 100 Words Every High School Student Should Know find their way into the fiction.

The books lend themselves to short in-class readings and activities, outside literary circles, vocabulary exercises, samples for creative writing projects and much more.

The Role-Playing Game

Sure its a game, but what the players don't realize is that they are engaging in an interactive project-based-learning environment that provides natural cross-curricular elements and activities. Players are encouraged to create and design characters with rich histories then interact in a story-based game in which they are the hero (take that Instagram!).

Players incorporate storytelling with math skills, problem solving, strategy, mythology, speaking and listening skills, characterization, and much more. Adding to it--all of this occurs in an interactive social setting that tears players away from consoles, TVs, and iphones.
Friendships are formed, bonds are made, lessons learned. And we call it a game.

The Graphic Novels

A true integration of artistic mediums, the four books comprising Song of Dominion utilize photography, illustration, and prose to bring this story to life. If brevity is the soul of wit, then indeed the graphic novel is the wittiest of prose forms. Relying as much on the visual component as the words on the page, this is a stripped down style of writing that offers a powerful lesson in "showing" and not "telling." Structurally the graphic novel is broken into four distinct books--each of which offers unique lessons in both storytelling and art design. 

I am eager to speak to classrooms and students, both to discuss the work that goes into the writing and publishing process, but to help re-light the spark of interest in reading. Our students are hungry for good stories, they sometimes just need to be reminded that there are good stories out there to read.

The Laughing Moon Chronicles certainly offer more than just magic and adventure, although those may be two crucial components needed to engage today's students.

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE: The Twilight Swordsman

Travelers speak of a lone swordsman, blessed by a goddess, wandering the dangerous roads of Mythren. A champion and protector, he is the light that safeguards the innocent. Once more, servants of death and darkness threaten the lands as an ancient power stretches forth from the nether reaches of the fey realms. A hero is called, but as boundaries of light and dark begin to blur, twilight settles upon the swordsman’s soul in the shadow of the Laughing Moon.

After a writing-filled summer, my new novella with co-author Donovan Pruitt is available to readers. I had the pleasure of meeting Donovan when he came on board as a backer to my first Kickstarter project. He was passionate about the Laughing Moon world, and eager to get involved. Working together, we designed a unique story that would continue the themes and conflicts set forth in the novels, but also shed some light on new corners of the world. The Twilight Swordsman is not only a great fantasy story, its an example of what strong collaboration should look like.  Kindle readers can snag this book here.

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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saddle up for Laughing Moon Crossroads at Gateway

The Laughing Moon crew is bringing the new Crossroads game to the Gateway gaming convention put on by Strategicon in LA August 29-September 1st. Crossroads takes the world of Laughing Moon and puts an Old West spin on it.  Magic, curses, and bullet will fly!

We're lookin' to round up gamers at Gateway to check out the new system. Our gang will be runnin' two tables each session with room for you and your pardner. So saddle up and be a part of the epic adventures players have come to expect with Laughing Moon.

Here's the skinny on all five sessions.

The Wolves of Cherry Creek
Cherry Creek is a small establishment  that  lies just west of the border between the New Republic and the Federation. No cherry trees grow in this region, however. The name came about after a massive gun fight between settlers and soldiers of the Federation. The result was so bloody the streams ran red, or so say the survivors. Once again Federation lawmen have arrived in unwanted territory and the adventuring party is called on to keep the peace. 
But what’s drawn the Federation back to a simple one-saloon town after all these years?
Day and Time: Saturday 9:00am

Shades of the Red Hill Mine
The Red Hill Mine was abandoned decades ago. History claims the miners died in a tragic collapse of the narrow tunnels, but local legend makes other claims. Few tears were shed, as the victims were mostly dark elves and dwarves—no human casualties, thank the powers above.  Regardless, the graves of those long-dead miners have recently been dug up, and Federation agents seem intent on diverting all interest away. 

Meanwhile, something stirs deep in the mine that could threaten everyone living in the shadow of Red Hill.
Day and Time: Saturday 2:00pm

The Guns of Godsteel
Ancient powers that had long slept in the Red Hill Mine have awakened and an unnatural darkness has settled over the region. Creatures of myth now stalk the land, and the adventuring party is sent on a desperate mission to find the one legendary gunslinger capable of putting an end to the nightmare—the fact that he’s been dead for twenty years is only one problem they’ll have to overcome.
Day and Time: Sunday 9:00am

Hanged Man’s Crossing
Time is running out as the adventuring party must race to a forbidden crossroads in an effort to awaken the fabled Hanged Man before the sickle moon rises. Talismans of the ancient world point to hidden truths long kept buried in the forgotten past. Not everyone wants the secrets known however, and agents of the Federation have made dark alliances to ensure that dead men tell no tales.
Day and Time: Sunday 2:00pm

Happy Trails
With the last remaining clues now in hand, the adventuring party returns to Cherry Creek. Hot on their trail is an outlaw gang of the undead that seems to have evaded not only the Federation lawmen, but the long arm of death as well. Magic, bullets, and curses fly in an epic struggle of literal life and death.   
Day and Time: Monday 9:00am
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Introducing Laughing Moon Crossroads

I am pleased to announce a new spin on the Laughing Moon RPG setting. Laughing Moon Crossroads takes the familiar setting and races of my fantasy world and combines it with elements of the Old West. The history of the world has taken a turn that allows for the rise of steam engines and gunpowder. Players are able to choose traditional character types, but the combination of fantasy and western elements will allow for entirely new adventures and a lot of fun.

Myself and the Laughing Moon crew are currently beta-testing the mechanics of the game and ironing out the history behind this "alternate universe" version of the world. When the work is done, we'll have a fun game on our hands that I'll be eager to bring to gamers.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Ridges: Setting Details for a Laughing Moon Adventure

Decades ago this quaint location was used by Delerion nobles as a place to discretely offer comfort and care to their “afflicted” children.  A collection of cottages constructed by a nearby lake would make for a serene sanctuary away from the harsh public eye, or so said the wealthy investors who commissioned the project. Here, tucked away in the Andron Mountains, those born into specific wealthy families with mental illness, disease, deformaties, or disciplinary issues were sent to the Ridges and kept under the watchful eye of the Sisters of the Hand—acolytes of Krymara, the Goddess of Healing.  

Though their hearts were pure, the Sisters were not true priestesses and lacked the divine gift of magical healing. They were caregivers and counselors, but ill-equipped to deal with the increasing number of residents or the multitude of afflictions they possessed.  Those sent to the Ridges were never cured, they were merely contained.  And in the pristine getaway of their mountain retreat, the outcast children of Delerion’s highborn became sullen, angry, and vengeful.

Over time, the inhabitants of the Ridges grew older, and despite promises made by the Delerion nobles to provide money for supplies, additional shelter and general care, soon the flow of gold into the quiet camp ceased all together.  With many of the Sisters abandoning the camp, unrest began to stir amongst the inhabitants as the Ridges turned from a place of comfort into a hidden asylum with increasingly dangerous denizens.

The first known murder was committed by a boy of sixteen named Joachim. Sister Tyrell had never been known as a tender heart,  but what set the brutal act off remains a mystery. She was killed just outside the perimeter of the Ridges, bludgeoned to death with a stone, and perhaps out of fear of being caught, Joachim attempted to hide her body in a nearby cave.  Deep within the dark confines, he found the perfect location to conceal his crime: an ancient archway that outlined a yawning abyss.  How could the boy have known about Fey Ways or the myths and legends surrounding them?

How could he have understood the sacrifice he was offering?

The body was thrown in, and a devilish fey entity was awakened.  When Joachim left the cave he carried more than a murderer’s guilt—he carried the spirit of an evil monstrosity hungry for mortal blood.
Madness erupted shortly thereafter and the inhabitants of the Ridges fell victim to the murderous will of the possessed Joachim. Death claimed uncounted victims, and those that escaped did so screaming into the surrounding woods.

From the open Fey Way, additional creatures slipped out like sinuous shadows to occupy the cabins and cottages once held by the “afflicted.” Here they fed off of the residual anger and trauma that lingered from years of abandonment and neglect. They took the tangible form of the most horrifying thoughts long kept hidden in the inarticulate vaults of the inhabitants’ minds. Murder and madness bred and gave birth to new terror.

Soon the Ridges fell quiet and time slipped by. Some say the former denizens still wander the wooded region, lost in a perpetual nightmare or perhaps possessed like Joachim. The cabins and cottages still stand, though time and elements have been cruel. Within, the gloom conceals the atrocities of yesterday as sleeping monsters drift ever closer to waking. 

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Laughing Moon Setting Update: The Rise of the Ancient World

The Age of Prophecy has been an era of fear and waiting.

Born from the ashes of the Age of Dominion, those who rose to power in the new age did so in the wake of loss and utter catastrophe. Tales spoke of Sorcerer-kings and angels in rebellion. Legend whispered of a wrathful Oracle. Prophets warned that the ancient world would rise again.
Artwork by Ethan Scott

For more than a thousand years this warning has hung like a shadow over the lands. The keepers of magic guard against the return of ancient powers and seek to hide the truth of what lies buried or lost between the pages of history and the legends of old.

Yet nothing remains buried forever. Prophecy, whether self-fulfilled or by destiny, has come to pass. And secrets long hidden or forgotten have once again found their way back to the world beneath the Laughing Moon.

The village of Kiano Tol, long used as a cover to house relics of the ancient world, has been breached and its age-old secrets have at last been unleashed on an unsuspecting population. The forgotten demi-gods, absent from Mythren for thousands of years, escape their prison of obscurity. Among them: Ashyrdican, dragon god of greed and stolen luck, Murkel, worshiped by orlocks, gand and scads, Harrow, the doom bringer, and Shikal, called the wolf-mother.

Artwork by Chris Wood
The surviving ilvastu, the titans that once ruled the lands as earth-bound gods, have also been revealed--many of whom have been hiding in plain sight for generations. The returned include Dercilean, the Hammer, forger and smithy of the immortals, Bendahal once worshiped by the vandi before her immortal song was stolen, Chorrt, the Carrion King of the Twilight Kingdom, and Rhaen, whose power and legacy has been inherited by a character called the Burned Man.

But most disconcerting of all is that a new titan has risen. Crawling from the black water of the Dim, a corrupted and forsaken fey realm, is something called Almyn. The living embodiment of the curse once held in the Key of Almyn, this titan holds power unlike any before. The Key once had the power to resurrect the dead--but at the cost of some future disaster centered around the returned. Now the Almyn titan spreads this curse like a plague, returning life to the dead, and charging each of those returned with the power to bring doom and destruction to all around them. At her side is the vastral, Cezares. She was once the first vastral created by the titan Jezaphar--a noble lioness imbued with divine breath. Later she was stripped of her power, but not of her immortality. Desperate and vengeful, Cezares has now sided with the Almyn, obsessed with regaining the power she once knew.

Ancient powers have risen and war threatens the lands as these forgotten gods seek to reclaim what was so long ago lost.

The Laughing Moon RPG setting updates pull heavily from situations, events and conflicts found in the Laughing Moon Chronicles fiction as well as from actual games that occur around the RPG table.  For more detailed back story be sure to check out the books and graphic novels, or join the Laughing Moon crew at a gaming convention!

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New Release: Grimhold

Just in time for Phoenix Comicon, we bring you the second book in the Laughing Moon graphic novel series--Song of Dominion: Grimhold.

Grimhold takes our readers to the infamous Spire of Mystics, where the Chroniclers have been summoned to a secret meeting. The discovery of the Burned Man, as seen in the prologue, Candle, has introduced a significant threat to the balance of magic in the lands. 

Now the Spire of Mystics is charged with negating that threat by any means necessary. Desperate, the Chroniclers turn to the dark angel, Sershae. Held prisoner for the atrocities committed during the Senduan Persecution hundreds of years ago, she is now their greatest weapon against the rise of the ancient world and the power which now resides in the hands of the Burned Man. 

You can catch a sneak peek inside the first two books in the series by clicking on the video below.
A tremendous amount of work has gone into the writing and the artwork, and once again a project like this would not be possible without the amazing talent I have been surrounded by. Ethan Scott has done beautiful artwork, and our cast did an outstanding job bringing our characters to life.

You can order a copy of Grimhold on the official website at www.toddvanhooser.com

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