Behind the Scenes at ‘Geek Knits’ – Plus a Book Giveaway!

Geek Knits image courtesy of Kyle Cassidy.
Geek Knits image courtesy of Kyle Cassidy.

Two weeks ago, GeekMom premiered the gloriously geektastic knitting book, Geek Knits: Over 30 Projects for Fantasy Fanatics, Science Fiction Fiends, and Knitting Nerds by Joan of Dark, with photographs by Kyle Cassidy.

Currently hanging out around the top 50 most popular knitting books on Amazon, Geek Knits features actors, authors, and celebrities from across the geek pantheon. (Yes, I went there. Hush.)

We love behind-the-scenes exclusives at GeekMom, and Kyle and Joan were happy to oblige with the following stories.

Plus, know what makes exclusives even better? The wonderful folks at St. Martins’ Press do: a giveaway. You’ll find your own chance to win a copy of Geek Knits: Over 30 Projects for Fantasy Fanatics, Science Fiction Fiends, and Knitting Nerds at the bottom of this post.

Read on, crafty friends:

Geek Knits Behind the Scenes 1: George R.R. Martin – From Kyle Cassidy
“Fun fact: I spent nearly a week in George R. R. Martin’s guest house, waiting to take the photo for Geek Knits of George and the knitted Dire Wolf. George would stick his head in and ask if anybody wanted to go out for tacos (and of course, I’d say yes). Then he’d say he felt like writing and I wasn’t about to be the guy on the internet who told George R. R. Martin to not write, so I read books and took photos of rollergirls out in the desert and went running and I’d check back periodically and he’d invite me to dinner and I’d go and then it would be late and everybody would go to bed. One day, he suggested we go to a movie at his theater. It was a South Korean western called The Good, the Bad, and the Weird—a bunch of the authors from Wild Cards were there. Finally, one evening his assistant called and said, ‘Can you do it now before the football game?’ and I raced over and did the photos in his office in about 15 minutes. He was loads of fun to be around and I had a great time hanging out there.”

Kyle says, “The good news is I’m finally photographing GRRM. The bad news is I’m about to be attacked by a giant robot.” Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

Geek Knits Behind the Scenes 2: Adam Savage – From Kyle Cassidy
(Or how Kyle ran a marathon, set up the perfect shot, and hung out with stormtroopers and a shark.)

“The shot of Adam Savage with the dragon is probably my favorite one in the book. It wasn’t difficult to set up, but it was still the most difficult.

Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

I’d been planning on taking a weekend of vacation, meaning that I’d fly from Philadelphia to Chicago, run a half marathon with Peter Sagal, do his photo for Geek Knits, then jump on a plane and come back to Philly the next day. That’s ‘vacation’ in my mind. Joan called and said that Adam Savage from Mythbusters was available for a photo shoot, but only in the middle of my vacation (after I ran the race, but before I came home) and could I go from Chicago to California and then back to Philly instead of sleeping after the race?

I had my photo gear, but no props and nothing in mind for Adam’s shoot. I didn’t even know where it was going to be. It turned out to be backstage at a concert hall—Adam was doing a performance and I had the run of the backstage area to figure something out and when Adam came off stage, we could do the photo.

I wanted to do something in the Mythbusters tradition, meaning some sort of construction and Adam was modeling a dragon. What would Adam do with a dragon? Melt something? Fire, there should probably be fire. Joan’s husband, (Dill Hero) was totally on board with the idea of setting something on fire in the theater. Somehow cooler heads prevailed and the fire idea was nixed. Maybe Adam would set a trap for a dragon and catch it. So Dill and I started scouring the backstage looking for things to make a Rube Goldberg trap out of and a place to set it up.

This is our proof of concept.

Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

What remains is how to light it. Here’s one light behind an umbrella. It lights everything up. Nice maybe, but not dramatic enough for a dragon.

Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

I went with two lights, a soft box above the dragon , and a second light straight on the trapper. The dragon is being lured into the trap with a little pile of gold coins. Because that’s how you catch a dragon. Photo geekery: Because I was ostensibly ‘on vacation’ and thought I was only taking one photo of Peter Sagal, I packed a small camera kit consisting of a Panasonic Lumix GX7 and a 20mm f 1.7 lens. The Lumix is very small and very capable and it’s become a go-to for a lot of my work that involves traveling. I had two flashes triggered by Pocket Wizard radio flash triggers. I also brought one light stand and the umbrella was a Photek Softlighter II, which converts into a soft box, a shoot through, or a reflective umbrella. It’s very useful. The umbrella and the light stand both fit in my suitcase; everything else in a small camera bag.

Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

That looks appropriately dramatic! So we waited for Adam, he came off stage, I did like four photos, which was kind of pointless because we nailed it on the first one. I love how the dragon looks happily and innocently inquisitive and Adam looks delightedly triumphant—his trap is working! Click! And now with my job done, I could go lay down in a hotel and sleep for five hours before my red-eye back to philly! Glorious sleep!

Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

Then Adam said: ‘Do you want to come back to my place and hang out for a while?’

Wot wot?! Anyone who says ‘no’ to that does not deserve to be working on a book called Geek Knits.

So we went. You can see in this selfie, I’m still wearing my running shirt from the half marathon.

Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

Adam has a shark. He found it in a dumpster and brought it home and hung it up by himself. Because when he’s not building things on Mythbusters, he’s building things. He’s the least lazy person I’ve ever met in my life. So I figured, ‘suck it up and sleep some other time.’ And we went on into the evening. Adam showed us the most powerful flashlight ever invented, the prop gun from The Bourne Identity, we had tacos. I got on an airplane at midnight and flew back to Philadelphia. The plane landed and I went off to the next thing, still in two-day-old clothes without unpacking my bags. Tired didn’t mean anything, so much had happened. We made great stuff, we had an adventure; that’s all I really remember.”

Photo courtesy Kyle Cassidy.

Joan adds: “The dragon was designed by Noel Margaret ( I asked several designers about making a plush dragon and Noel nailed it, hands down. I love how the texture makes it look like the dragon has scales! Instead of doing the obvious green, she wanted to do a bright red, which I was absolutely on board with. It came out so cute and cuddly instead of creepy or scary!

Also Adam not only had The Bourne Identity gun, he had the red bag and trash can! (Bourne Identity is one of those movies that I can watch once a week and never get tired of it. I was having a major geek out!)

It’s really, really hard for me to pick a favorite photo from Geek Knits, but this one is up there! I was so paranoid about it getting in since it’s um, sideways. (Kyle what’s the fancy photo term for sideways???) Most photos in knitting books are vertical. As soon as I turned these photos in to the publisher I was like, ‘This photo. This photo has to be in the book!’

As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry. The publisher and art department saw that photo and were instantly in love with it!”

Thanks so much to Joan of Dark and Kyle Cassidy for providing behind-the-scenes stories from Geek Knits, as well as great tips on how best to light a dinosaur trap for posterity!

Even better, the fabulous folks from St. Martin’s Press have authorized GeekMom to do a giveaway. Sign up on our rafflecopter for your chance to win your very own copy of Geek Knits: Over 30 Projects for Fantasy Fanatics, Science Fiction Fiends, and Knitting Nerds.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms: US/Canada only. Contest runs Tuesday, June 30, through Monday, July 6.

George R. R. Martin Talks About Wild Cards

George R. R. Martin at ConCarolinas. Photo CC-BY-SA Ruth Suehle

ConCarolinas in Charlotte, NC was sold out this past weekend. Though a great event in its own right, this was likely thanks largely to its guest of honor, George R. R. Martin. At times you could have easily thought you were at a Game of Thrones convention rather than a general science/speculative/fantasy fiction convention, given the army of Khaleesis and Melisandres and GoT-inspired t-shirts walking around! But in his first talk, Martin talked not about the A Song of Ice and Fire books or the related HBO show, but instead about his older and continuing Wild Cards series.

Wild Cards is a shared world story, which means the universe is common to multiple authors who each create characters and stories within it. This world features an alien-created retrovirus that was released over New York City in 1946 and kills (in horrible ways) 90% of those who are infected. The other 10% who contract the virus, known as “jokers,” are changed, generally by being deformed in unfortunate and hideous ways. But one percent of the infected become “aces,” who maintain their human forms but also get superpowers.

Martin has been editing and writing Wild Cards since 1985, far longer than the A Song of Ice and Fire series, which he started in 1991. It grew from Martin’s gaming group in New Mexico. They began playing Call of Cthulhu, among other games (though, he noted, not Dungeons & Dragons). Then for his birthday, Vic Milan gave Martin a copy of Superworld. “It became completely addictive, and the biggest addict was me,” Martin said. “For two years I was running Superworld–I think it cost me at least a novel. Instead of writing, I was rolling up villains every day.” When the Albuquerque group was regularly gaming until 3 a.m. and having postmortem discussion until 5, he started a weeknight group nearer his home in Santa Fe.

“It was a great role-playing group–we really got into the role-playing part,” he said. “Many nights went by where we didn’t roll the dice; [it was] more like improv theater. Then I said the famous words, ‘There’s got to be a way to make some money out of this stuff,’ and the answer was shared worlds.”

Martin initially called the concept “mosaic novels,” though shared world anthologies were already popular, starting with Robert Aspirin and Lynn Abbey’s Thieves’ World, which Martin says started as an argument in a convention bar over whether Conan the Barbarian could beat Elric in a fight. Its success prompted other writers and editors to do similar projects such as Heroes in Hell and Greystone Bay. None ever quite equaled Thieves’ World‘s success, though.

“And no one had done a superhero shared world,” Martin said. “We wanted to take the form to the next level.” He talked to Abbey and Aspirin about their successes and problems and was able to avoid some of the pitfalls they had encountered as a result.

The Wild Cards authors came from the experience of reading comics during the Silver Age of comic books and a feeling that those worlds were flawed, a notion that also spawned stories like The Watchmen and The Dark Knight around the same time.

“As much as we love the superhero stories, they don’t hold up in a superhero sense,” Martin said. “They’re a hodgepodge of origins. This guy’s a god, and this one it’s a radioactive spider, and this guy finds a stick in a cave… this makes no sense. It’s partly fantasy.” His solution to a superhero fiction more rooted in science was to create a single cause for superhero powers, which became the Wild Cards virus. Initially he intended for the powers to be comparatively weaker but more realistic given the known laws of science. “But that broke down quickly,” he said, as the writers wanted to create colorful characters. He joked, “I didn’t have the heart to say no. We found you can mumble ‘psionics’ or ‘quantum theory’ and justify anything you want.” (The Takisian aliens that created the Wild Cards virus use it to improve their psionic powers.)

The next step was to ask the critical question: What happens to the world if superpowers are real? What do those people actually do? It seems unlikely that they’d spend their time going after bank robbers when existing law enforcement has that sort of thing already handled. And what about the “power” part of “superpower”? When superpowers are acquired at random, some people aren’t going to use those powers for good.

“It’s interesting to compare our solution to something like Watchmen,” Martin said. “I think Alan Moore was thinking the same thing, that the way traditional comic books were doing it wasn’t quite right. He kept the costumes but mostly did away with the powers. We kept the powers but threw out the identities and costumes.”

Wild Cards is entering its 23rd volume and has had 40 other writers participate over the years. Lowball, the 22nd novel in the series, is due out later this year, followed by High Stakes. They’ve long since stopped officially numbering the novels, though, as that makes it more intimidating for new readers to jump in. Martin noted that every few volumes, there’s a new entry point so that you don’t have to read all of the previous volumes to start.

The first three books in the series, Wild Cards, Aces High, and Jokers Wild work together as a trilogy and are intended to be read as one. The next three books, however, became four. “As happens seemingly with anything I’m connected with, one of the volumes got extremely long,” Martin joked. Then the writers who had been working on these anthologies wanted to write novel-length stories, so they contracted for two novels. If you’re not ready to commit to an entire series, the best entry points (that aren’t the beginning) are Aces Abroad (4), One-Eyed Jacks (8), Card Sharks (13), Deuces Down (16), Inside Straight (18, which is when the series moved to being published by Tor), and Fort Freak (21).

As to hopes of seeing Wild Cards on screen, Martin had no new news. The rights to the film were the first acquisition for SyFy Films, a partnership between SyFy Channel and Universal, back in 2011. Melinda Snodgrass, a writer in the series, has written a draft of the film, which they’re still hoping to see made.

GeekMom Game of Thrones Recap is Back!


It took a bit, but the GeekMom Game of Thrones Recap is back. This week we talk about Episode 3, “Breaker of Chains” — and it’s a doozy.

Don’t forget to tune in right after the show, 10PM EST for our future episodes!

GeekMom Game of Thrones Season 3 Tea Party Recap — Episode 4: “And Now His Watch Is Ended”

Watch the GeekMoms streaming live, right now! It’s all about the Game of Thrones third season, and the fourth episode: “And Now His Watch Is Ended.” We streamed live, but you can still check us out in the following video. Beware: we try to keep it spoiler-free, but there’s always a chance we let something slip!

Sadly, Andrea was sick this week, but we look forward to her joining us again next Sunday night!

Check out the full post for the video and highlights from this episode.

Continue reading GeekMom Game of Thrones Season 3 Tea Party Recap — Episode 4: “And Now His Watch Is Ended”

Get Cooking — George R. R. Martin Style

If you’re a fan of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series (recently made more popular than ever with the HBO series Game of Thrones), you’ll want to check out two fan sites that are dedicated to an unusual aspect of the books — the food. Specifically, they’re dedicated to recreating the dishes mentioned in the books.

The Inn at the Crossroads delves “deep into the world of Westeros and far over the Narrow Sea to explore the mouthwatering cuisines favored by the fantastic cultures in the book.” The site’s creators (Sariann and Chelsea) and its followers also cooked up a plan to deliver baskets of Ice and Fire food to Martin himself at various stops along his recent book tour. And you can’t beat the site’s slogan: “In the Game of Food, you win, or you wash the dishes…”

Cooking Ice and Fire takes a more methodical approach. Creator Adam Bruski aims “to cook every dish mentioned and described in A Song of Ice and Fire and explore the history, real world references, techniques, and science behind each.” (Excepting a few of the more outré items like dog sausages.) There are also great pictures to go along with every dish.

Bon appétit, Martin fans!

Geeky Novel Word Counts–How Long Are You In For?

Earlier this week, I found myself in a discussion about the lengths of various novels. It was spurred by two similar conversations I’ve found myself in repeatedly, based on the recent Game of Thrones TV show and the release of the final Harry Potter film. They go like this:

Game of Thrones Harry Potter
Friend: *complaint about TV show, usually about a character being killed off* Friend: *complaint about final movie, usually regarding the slowness of Part I*
Me: You should try reading the books. I think it’s a much better experience. When characters are killed off so quickly, you don’t have a chance to get attached to them in the TV show. You also don’t see the variety of points of view that the book offers. Me: Did you read the books first? The movies have to cut a lot out, so it seems like people who didn’t read didn’t understand a lot of the first part of Deathly Hallows.
Friend: There are books?! Friend: Yeah, they’re just too long.

A Dance With Dragons, the latest book in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, weighs in at 1,040 pages. (The series title is actually A Song of Ice and Fire, but TV-only people have never heard that name.) Deathly Hallows is practically bite-sized in comparison at 784 pages.

All this got me wondering how those two compared to other epic series. Available word counts vary, and since I’m not inclined to count the words individually myself, consider the following to be reasonably accurate, but not perfect.

Your favorite may be missing from this sampling–feel free to add it in the comments. But there’s one that I intentionally left out because it threw the chart off so far. If you decide to get into Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, you’re in for 4,012,859 words, over 635 chapters and 11,308 pages. Even in audio format, you’ll be committing to 17 days, 11 hours, and 30 minutes. Deathly Hallows doesn’t sound so bad any more, does it?