Teacher's second novel centers around 'LARPing'

Patrick Varine
| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 8:56 p.m.

Four summers ago, Justin Calderone of Verona was driving along Washington Boulevard in Pittsburgh's East End when he and his wife noticed a sizable group of people, seemingly dressed like they'd come straight out of the Dark Ages, practicing with what appeared to be swords and shields in the park.

One weekend, as the Calderones sat at the traffic light watching, Justin, an English and journalism teacher at Penn Hills High School, said to his wife, “I wonder how they'd do against a real army. If a boat pulled up, and troops charged down the boulevard, could they defend us?”

The casual discussion turned into the seed for a plot, and the story that emerged has been published as Calderone's latest novel, “LARP: The Battle for Verona.”

LARP stands for “live action role playing,” and while it takes a wide variety of forms, the basics involve role-playing games in which people physically act out their characters' actions. Many LARP events center around a medieval theme, with characters dressing as knights, mythical monsters, lords and ladies. The people who meets in the Washington Boulevard park are one such group, and Calderone's novel centers around a fictional group of medieval LARPers.

Calderone, 36, said he did quite a bit of research for the novel, including hiring a consultant to ensure that the LARP elements of the story were as accurate as possible.

“LARP: The Battle for Verona” centers around a group of friends who head from the fictitious island of Verona, Wash., to the mainland (by way of the purple-hued “Hulton Bridge” — places in Calderone's story will be familiar to actual Verona and Oakmont residents, despite the location being switched from Pennsylvania to Washington) for a LARP event, only to find that a real threat has overtaken their family and friends back on the island. The LARPers discover they'll have to put their skills to real-world use if they want their homes back.

Calderone spoke recently with the Progress about writing his latest novel:

Q: What is it about LARP that interested you enough to base your book around it?

A: Most people think that LARPers are the classic “geek” in society. They'd be the last people in the world you'd expect to save a town. But the more research I did, and the more I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that we're all geeks, to some extent. Just about everyone I know has a “geek” hobby, from collecting their favorite things to a fantasy football team, it's all geek to me! And most of us are LARPers, we just don't acknowledge it. Go anywhere in Pittsburgh on a Sunday — or even a Tuesday — and you'll find a large part of the population wearing Steeler gear. That's LARP for sure. And isn't Halloween a big LARP holiday? A lot of times, we're defined by our hobbies. One of the main points I make with “LARP: The Battle for Verona” is that there really isn't a difference in social value between one hobby and the next.

Q: Who do you see as the target audience for the novel?

A: My target audience is people who enjoyed novels such as “The Hunger Games,” “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” “Game of Thrones,” “Dragonlance,” etc. Those novels are unique because they appeal to teens and young adults. There's a heavy dystopian theme in the novel, which will appeal to people who enjoy “The Walking Dead,” or other “end of the world” novels. However, “LARP: The Battle for Verona” isn't just for the “geek” audience. Anyone who loves a great fantasy action novel, with an underdog group of heroes, a little romance, and some comic relief, will love it.

Q: What has been the most enjoyable part of writing the novel for you?

A: Creation-wise, it was incredibly fulfilling for me to see the characters come alive. The more I wrote, the better I knew them, even though they are modeled after people I've known my entire life. When I write I can see it happening in my head. I feel like I am at a movie, and I'm just taking notes on what I am seeing. After the process was complete, it was amazing to see the cover for the first time. I'll always remember that feeling.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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