The Father Geek Spotlight is an ongoing feature that focuses on ordinary people doing an extraordinary job of living the geek life and loving it. It’s about moms and dads, grandmas and grandads, aunts and uncles, and brothers and sisters who have passionate interests and share them with family, friends, and the occasional stranger they meet on the street who they swear they know but can’t quite remember why or from where…
Father Geek interviews Todd Edwards: Father, Geek, Author, and Robot Repair Guru
FG: Thank you very much, Todd, for taking the time to talk with us. When you passed me your “resume” of past and current activities, I was overwhelmed with all that you have accomplished and are doing today! The fact you are able to take the time for this interview is a true testament to your Ninja like time management skills!
TE: You make me sound like the guy from the Dos Equis commercials.
FG: The “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials? Love those. Not so much the beer.
TE: The truth is that I just don’t get enough sleep. Actually, I’m a morning person, so I usually get an hour or two to hang with my cats and work on my projects before everyone else gets up. My wife is a night owl, so she gets time to herself after everyone goes to sleep. The perfect situation.
FG: That is perfect! My wife and I are also busy raising our three little geeks and we occasionally meet each other in passing,high-fiveing in the hallway. Let me take a moment to briefly summarize your activities and accomplishments thus far. You are a father of 2, a children’s book author, a recovering podcaster, and a video game programmer. Education wise, you have advanced degrees in Physics and Bioengineering. You also service and repair robots, are an accomplished Fencer and SCUBA diver, and a game enthusiast! And that’s just the high level summary. I doubt you can fly and jump buildings in a single bound, but then again, I wouldn’t be surprised.
TE: I love learning new things and I follow my interests. I hope my kids will do the same.
FG: How do you share your hobbies and passions with your little geeks?
TE: My eldest is 3-and-a-half-years-old. I try to let her guide the way usually, but I do try to nudge her towards things I enjoy.
FG: Nudging, eh? I just flat-out tell my little geeks, “This is Dungeons and Dragons and you will love it.” That seems to be working for now. You mentioned to me in an earlier conversations that one of the ways you guide, educate, and share with your children is through stories. Tell me about that. I believe it was using a character you invented? Nerni the Gnome?
TE: Nerni and Friends started with her asking me to make up a bedtime story. After a few stories that didn’t catch on, I came up with Nerni Invents Clock. She asked for it over and over. That led to her “inventing” things as we played, so I got her tinker toys to foster her interest.
FG: Ah, Tinker Toys…. such a simple toy but endless possibilities.
TE: I also take her out into nature and point out cool science things that she might not notice, like bugs, birds, and stars. One night, we sat in the dark listening to the sounds of the evening and heard an owl hooting off in the distance. She still talks about that a year later.
FG: It’s the littlest of things our children often remember.
TE: My other favorite example is what she calls “Puppet Show”. I let her play with my Heroscape terrain and a subset of the figures (the ones that don’t have guns or are too grotesque). She takes the figures and plays with them like dolls . We tell stories together with them. She has even acted out several of her favorite Nerni and Friends stories using the figures (and her stuffed animals). Seeing her inventing and making up stories on her own makes me proud.
FG: All this while using Heroscape? Incredible!
TE: Oh, I also got some foam swords so I can teach her fencing. She has us play “Knight and Dragon” out in the yard. Sometimes we joust (like in one of her books) and other times we sit on them and have a tea party.
FG: Ha! Awesome! Your playtime with your little geeks sounds involved and highly creative! Wonderful! How about you? What is the prefect “game experience” in your mind other than tea parties and foam swords?
TE: When I or the group I am with get in “The Zone”.
FG: What is “The Zone”?
TE: You know, when you’re playing and lose track of everything outside of the game. It can happen during online computer games when I become my character, in a strategy game when I “see” all the options unfolding, or in a party game when the whole group gets in sync and all of a sudden it is 2 AM.
FG: Like Epic Pictionary? No? Sorry, that must just be me. Please, go on.
TE: I don’t like downtime. If everyone (or, just me, for solo games) is focused on the game and no one gets bored enough to pull out their smartphone, then it is a good time. Also, I love to play games with my eldest daughter. She mostly likes to make up the rules or just play with the parts and that’s great. No reason to get to stuck on playing by the rules as a 3-year-old. I prefer her to be creative. She will play by the rules sometimes, but when she’s done, she’s done. I have to try not to push it.
FG: You mentioned you travel a good deal in your current career. Do you bring any games to play in the hotels while on business?
FG: Really? Well, it’s nice to know that I persuaded at least one individual.
TE: I had heard about the Lord of the Rings solo/co-op card game and through that found Dungeon Crawler, and then your review. When I heard it was good to play with kids, I ordered a copy. Provided I have enough energy at the end of a long day, I enjoy playing that on the road. And in “The Most Awesome Thing Ever” category, Jey from Gifted Vision made a Nerni Dungeon Crawler card to help me celebrate the release of my 2nd Nerni book!
FG: That is epic! Any other games?
TE: In the past, I tried hauling plastic minis and playing soloable battles using the Two Hour Wargame rules (their Sci Fi and Zombie rules), but that is a bit too cumbersome. On a sidenote, Two hour Wargame works well in co-op mode, too. You might like it to play with your kids. The rules work with any minis, so you can use your Heroscape figs. I also use Star Wars Miniatures from that old collectible minis game.
FG: Very cool! I’ll make sure to check it out.
TE: When I don’t have the energy for Dungeon Crawler, I play on my Android phone. There are a lot of good turn-based tactical/strategy games out there. My favorites are GOdroid, SteamBirds, Highborn, Uniwar, and Everlands. I also do most of my reading (sci fi, fantasy, and thriller/mystery) on trips. I also just backed D-Day Dice on Kickstarter. That looks like it has potential as a hotel room solo game, but time will tell.
FG: Small world. I backed D-Day Dice, too. When you are not on the road, playing games, and reading books, you have another hobby you enjoy. You are published author and creator of a fun little children’s book about a gnome named, Nerni. In fact, you sent us a copy and my little geeks and I loved it! We already know the origins of Nerni, but I would like to know more about the process of your writing and you publishing it, please.
TE: In grad school, I got fed up with fantasy novels and decided to write my own. Ten years later, I finished the 1st draft. It was OK. Then I found National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I wrote a funny novel about a gnome alchemist who solves a murder. I did NaNoWriMo four more times after that. I loved writing and having to make it up as I went. Not everything was good, but it was fun. And as I practiced, I got better at coming up with stories on the fly.
FG: So it was NaNoWriMo that really started Nerni and Friends books?
TE: No, but NaNoWriMo did set the stage for the fateful night when my daughter asked me to tell her a story. When I started to tell her a standard fairy tale, she said “No daddy, make up a new one.” Like I said before, the first few stories were OK, and then I stumbled onto Nerni and Clock. Every night after that, “Can you tell me about Nerni and Clock?” After a few nights I got her involved. She’d tell me if she wanted Nerni, Clock, or both. Then I’d ask what she wanted them to do. “A broken egg!”, “A ball!”, etc. So I’d make up a story about Nerni and a broken egg, or whatever she wanted. Nowadays, she’ll interrupt me in the middle of a story and direct me. “No, that’s not what they did.” or “No, they found a scratched cup” and I’ll run with her suggestion.
FG: Fascinating and fun! My little geeks and I do something very similar and take turns creating Pick-a-Path like stories. I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will lead to some hardcore dungeon delving role-playing in the future.
TE: In a way, our joint storytelling is a simple form of role-playing. I’m not sure which of us is the Dungeon Master though. I have a blast making up stories and she loves hearing them. Months later she’ll ask for specific stories. Sometimes I can’t remember them (I’ve made up more than 300 easily, most were throwaway one-timers based on something we did that day). If I do remember particular stories, I tell them over and over a few times and then write them down. If she likes them, they are keepers.
FG: Was Nerni and Clock one of those keepers?
TE: Yes. Nerni Invents Clock is my first book, which I published myself. I converted the spoken story into a written one, then read it aloud many times to get the flow down. Spoken versus read-aloud is very different. Then I made the pictures. I published it on Createspace (an Amazon.com print-on-demand company). You can order it via Amazon like any other book. It is aimed at younger kids. Ages 0-4 years seems popular, but I haven’t done much research. I just hear from people who’ve read it to their kids. I went with the high contrast art style to make it more friendly to baby eyes. My 6 month old likes it, so that’s good enough for me!
FG: Praise from a 6-month-old? Doesn’t get much better than that!
TE: All of my Nerni publishing is for my kids, but if other kids enjoy them, it makes me happy. But, really, my kids are my only real target audience. That said, my mother is a pediatrician, and she keeps a copy of Nerni Invents Clock in her waiting room. She says it is very popular with the pre-teen girls. Perhaps they get and like the “girl power” theme? Apparently it is also a favorite amongst her high-functioning autistic patients.
FG: Out of my three little geeks, Nerni was the most popular with my 2 and 4-year-old. It must be the colors and artwork, because they are drawn to the book and just flip through it, page after page. What’s next for Nerni? Anything new?
TE: After much work, I recently published the second book: Nerni’s Ingenious Inventions. It has four stories and its content is about half words and half pictures. I copied the formatting from Frog and Toad and other emerging reader books. My 3-year-old loves having people read it to her. My aunt is a 2nd grade teacher, and she said it will be great for 2nd and 3rd graders to read on their own. The stories are all about Nerni and her friends having to invent solutions to their problems.
FG: OUTSTANDING! Congratulations on releasing yet another wonderful Nerni book! I’ll have to get my hands on a copy! Do you plan on doing even more Nerni books in the future?
TE: I’ve got enough stories written down for three or four more books, but before I dive in, I’m going to take some time to market the published books. Or, perhaps, I’ll use the first two to find a publisher who’ll stick with my art style. As my kids grow, I’ll make the stories longer and more complex. Maybe one day I’ll be back to writing regular novels again!
FG: Only time will tell. Speaking of time, thank you very much for making some to talk to Father Geek! We wish you and your family the very best!