Novels Versus Interactive Novels

This is a post written for Games Versus Play.

I write both novels and interactive novels, and I’m fascinated by the style differences between the two.

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(This is how fascinated I am.)

When I write novels, I often write in first person (“I don’t deliberately make things explode”), and sometimes third person (“She doesn’t deliberately make things explode”). It is extremely rare to find a published novel written in second person (“You don’t deliberately make things explode”). Most people find second person very jarring. The famous exception is “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels, and I’ve seen a couple of modern children’s books written in second person.

The great thing about first person is that it’s easy to use a quirky writing style, and to see inside the main character’s head. In my opinion, it’s particularly good for young adult or crossover writing, when internal thoughts are often an important part of the plot. On the down side, you can’t see the thought processes of other characters, or any information the main character doesn’t know (such as, there is a bushfire coming).

Second person is favoured by a lot of interactive fiction, because it emphasises the reader’s involvement in the story.

It’s also common to have a different style for the text of the choices themselves. For example, Choice of Games uses second person for the main text, and first person for the choices (which is reversed in the Tin Man Games “Choices That Matter” serial story app).

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The overwhelming majority of novels use past tense (“Quit it!” said Bob), but quite a few interactive novels use present tense (“Quit it!” says Bob). When I’m writing a first draft, regardless of the form, I tend to switch back and forth between the two, which is always the most obvious thing I have to fix when I edit. It’s never okay to release a story like that.

This blog entry is in present tense. It feels more immediate to the reader—more like a face to face conversation. That’s useful for interactive fiction, which is a more conversational reading experience than novels. Quite a lot of writers fall into present tense in a first draft (whether they mean to or not) because they’re watching their own story as it happens in their head.

A story in its simplest form involves an interesting character with a serious problem who faces obstacles and then either succeeds or fails in solving their problem. The crucial structural elements are:

  1. How to make a character interesting. Flaws? Features? Quirks? Relate-ability? Pain (physical and/or emotional)? Unusual skills? Danger?
  2. What is the problem? It needs to be serious to the character, so it can be as simple as being thirsty or as complicated as saving the universe.
  3. What are the obstacles? They need to appear unsurmountable, and costly. The most difficult part is often having the character attempt to solve the problem in a way that should work (so the character doesn’t come across as an idiot) but instead backfires (raising the tension in the story). It’s a tricky balance.
  4. An ending must feel satisfying, even if the character fails or the problem has grown worse.

There are plenty of other elements to the story—worldbuilding, themes, scenery, subplots, etc etc—and of course other characters.

The greatest difference between a novel and an interactive novel is #1. The main character of a book is entirely under the writers’ control. They grow and change during the story. A crucial issue for any interactive fiction writer is how to make an interesting main character while also giving the reader control over the story. Often the solution is to make the main character a “Blank Slate”, an effect that works very much like a prototypical “Mary Sue”. That is, the reader can project their own personality onto the character.

Companies like Choice of Games work hard to allow the reader to fill in the blanks—choosing their own gender, sexuality, personality, and even the type of story. A single story with the same general ending can tell multiple stories eg a story ending with a prom can be a romance (the main character gets the girl/guy), horror (Carrie), action (Buffy), or tragedy (the main character doesn’t get the girl/guy) depending largely on the climactic scene. This means the writer needs to be able to think of their own main character and plot in several contradictory ways, and write their scenes accordingly.

A good interactive story writer also needs to think about the tangled fictional ethics of non-player characters. This is especially true in stories with a romance. Most interactive stories offer several romantic options, which immediately begs the question, “How are so many different people all attracted to one person? And is everybody bi?” NPCs really ARE just pieces on a board designed to make the player feel good, but good writing makes them feel like living, breathing individuals.

In the “Dream Daddy Dating Simulator” one of the potential romances is doomed no matter what the player does. This is frustrating to experience, but also makes the game more satisfying, because—as the creators point out—not all romances end well.

Some writers use statistics to block or allow romance, eg Kevin is only attracted to players who have shown high levels of empathy. Others have different sexuality for different NPCs, eg Kevin can only fall for male characters. That can be problematic, because far too much entertainment is pitched to a straight male setting. In my opinion, it’s better to have all bisexual NPCs than to give players less choices based on their gender.

The other tricky style element of interactive fiction is the dreaded “block of text”. In general, interactive fiction writers often aim for less than 300 words between choices. That means long passages of description or dialogue are a no-no. There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general readers want a LOT of choices, and will get bored with lengthy prose (no matter how beautiful or profound). IF can be beautiful and profound, but it needs to use less words to do so (or to use the same number of words, but break up paragraphs with choices).

The experience of reading an interactive novel is both more and less involving than reading a book. As an interactive fiction reader, you can have a huge amount of control over the story—who to love, who to kill, what to learn and how to use your skills—but you are also constantly breaking the fourth wall as you pause to consider your choices along the way. I tend to read non-interactive novels at night, because the decision-making process of reading IF is too stressful.

Whether you’re writing, reading, or playing… good luck!

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Books, Food, and the Dangers of Combining the Two

I’ve hurt my back (again) so for the last two days I haven’t been able to do much. I wasn’t even sure I was okay to drive, so yesterday my partner Chris worked from home, and today my father-in-law brought the kids home after school.

Today was a whole lot better than yesterday, pain-wise, and I even did a teensy bit of cautious cleaning (on the level of kicking dirty washing from the hallway into the laundry).

As my father-in-law left, I noticed a book Louisette (5) had brought home from school. One of those kids’ cook books. My heart sank.

 

Louisette brought it out of her bag (dangit, she remembered she had it) with smiles and requests to read it, and “make everything in it”. I had a look through (approving of the simplicity of the recipes) and said I’d think about maybe making something in it. She wandered off, and I had a look through.

It had ten recipes (not, as the cover proclaims, FIFTY*)

We had too many kiwifruit, which was worrying me (I have many fruit-related anxieties**), so I thought, “Let’s make that kiwifruit smoothie” (but, ya know, in the thermomix and with some frozen raspberries in it too). Kiwifruit is soft enough that I had the kids cutting it up—Louisette cut off the skin (along with two-thirds of each fruit…. well, we DID have too many…) and then TJ cut the remainder into smaller pieces.

This was a grand success, and I rode the high and proclaimed we’d make popcorn too. Louisette has a thing for popcorn and I’d secretly bought some microwavable stuff, so THAT was easy.

I’d already said we could maybe make the tart things for dinner (my own plan was frozen nuggets and chips…. bad back, remember?) since I knew we had a single sheet of ancient puff pastry in the freezer, and I’d also discovered some Chris-made pumpkin soup from a month or so ago, so I thought maybe that’d already count as one of the recipes too. So I took a photo: two happy kids in aprons with smoothie (in a jug to save for Chris), bowls of popcorn, and a freezer container of pumpkin soup.

They’re looking sideways due to watching TV. Mum is boring.

 

One thing led to another and thoughts happened in my head along the lines of, “Hey, we have to cook dinner anyway!” and “I can re-use trays” and “If I start now, I can…”

So naturally I decided to do all eleven recipes… using healthy versions where available, and using only what was already in the house.

  1. Smoothie (specifically, kiwi and raspberry, sweetened with maple syrup). Kid involvement: chopping kiwifruit together. Taste: Excellent. Healthiness: Pretty good. Kid response: Delighted. Mum cheat: thermomix.
  2. Popcorn. Kid involvement: Listening to popping (what else is there?) Taste: Excellent. Healthiness: Pretty good. Kid response: Delighted. Mum cheat: Microwave popcorn.
  3. Vegetable Art. Kid involvement: chopping various things. Taste: Vegetables and cheese. Healthiness: Excellent. Kid response: Delighted. They even ate most of what they made. Mum cheat: Using only a few ingredients (carrot, cucumber, cheese, mini crackers, and 2-minute noodles). I made a hill at sunrise; Louisette made a racing car (it looks like a train to me), and TJ proudly proclaimed that he had made “A Mess!” This also kept them entertained quite well while I prepped various other things (bread dough a la thermomix, roast vegetables for soup, stuff for “Pasta and Sauce”).

 

 

 

4. Pasta and Sauce. Louisette begged me not to cook this at all (not a fan of tomatoes) but it was far too late for moderation now. Kid involvement: I forced Louisette to stir the sauce for ten seconds so I could take a picture. Taste: Very tomato-y but actually rather nice. Healthiness: Excellent. Kid response: Begging for the sweet release of death. Mum cheat: I reverse cheated on this one: I actually added zucchini (pulverised with butter and onion in the thermomix) and fresh tomato. With grated mozzarella on top (we keep grated mozzarella in the freezer).

 

5. Bread. Thermomix bread is pretty easy (and we have dried yeast on hand) so I used the thermomix ‘basic bread’ recipe, made a small loaf out of most of it and let the kids make fun shapes from the rest (which I knew would also cook quickly, being smaller). Top tip: Don’t let kids knead bread. They’re terrible at it, and it always ends up really heavy. But they love it.

6. Soup.

At some stage I remembered we had a pumpkin in the fridge and lost my mind completely. I did a fast-and-dirty roast of pumpkin, carrot, sweet potato, onion, zucchini, and potato and then basically shoved it all in the thermomix. The next pic is Louisette modelling for me….. Louisette doesn’t like soup.

Kid involvement: Posing for photo, under protest. Taste: Pumpkin-y. Pretty good, especially considering I forgot to add stock (I added thermomix-and-butter-fried garlic before the rest, and had sprinkled herbs on the roasting vegies along with sprayed oil). Healthiness: Excellent. Kid response: NOOOO WHYYYYYY/Yum (TJ finished his). Mum cheat: Thermomix rather than saucepan (and I know from experience that you should always roast the vegies rather than cooking them any other way – and cover the pumpkin with foil so it doesn’t burn).

 

7. Tarts/Flans: I made savoury cheese flans plus two jam tarts (both just pastry with stuff inside).

Kid involvement: Louisette broke eggs into the bowl (twice, since the first time she did she added water “because I wanted to make it more healthy”), and both kids helped use the circular pastry cutter, then added scrap bits of pastry to the top of the tarts. Taste: Exquisite. Seriously. I think using the same containers brought in some delicious features from other dishes that did something wonderful to what should have been an omelette with pretensions. Healthiness: Pretty good. Kid response: All the nope, which luckily meant Chris and I got to eat more. Mum cheat: Frozen (and badly freezer-burned) puff pastry instead of shortcrust. I also added ham and avocado because they’re yummy and healthy.

[darn it, I’ve run out of free wordpress image space.]

[picture of muffin tin with tarts/flans because kids were no longer interested in this weird obsession.]

So for dinner we had tarts/flans, fresh bread, fresh home-made pumpkin soup, and pasta with home-made sauce.

Meanwhile, fairy cakes and upside-down puddings were cooking (precisely the same batter, even in the book) were cooking.

8. Upside-down pudding.

Basic cake mixture, in a muffin tin with tinned pineapple, sultanas, and desiccated coconut placed into the pan first. Served upside down (so the fruit is on the top). Kid involvement: Placing pineapple slices inside. Taste: Soap. I have no idea why. Possibly I didn’t clean the tin real well after the tarts. Possibly my body was trying to tell me something. Healthiness: Could be worse. Kid response: Meh. Mum cheat: Cooking fairy cakes at the same time. Genius. Also I’d long since run out of proper flour so I used cornflour. Taste was no longer a factor. The end was nigh.

[Picture of TJ eating his upside-down pudding. I think he actually ate it all, presumably because he was thrown into confusion at this stage of the evening—generally our kids respond to cupcakes with enthusiasm, then eat the top and abandon the rest.]

9. Fairy Cakes.

Same as above, but with paper patty pans instead of fruit. Then flavoured & coloured icing, with all the toppings I could find (desiccated coconut, white choc chips, sprinkles). Kid involvement: Decoration! Much cheering! Also, choosing colour and flavour of the icing (with heavy hints along the lines of “We have lemon flavouring and peppermint flavouring”). Taste: Mmm… artificial flavouring. Healthiness: Nope. Kid response: Delighted with the decorating process, yet strangely unenthusiastic about their ninth course. So this is their dessert-stomach threshold. Good to know. Mum cheat: Dad supervised the brightly-coloured horror of decoration while I did other things (far too hyper myself to panic over the small fingers and food colouring, which would normally be a huge deal).

[Picture of strangely re-invogorated children smeared with chocolate and icing.]

10. Moon rocks (basically lumpy choc chip cookies, but mine turned utterly flat). Kid involvement: Pouring in choc chips. Taste: Cardboard. Healthiness: Fail. Kid response: Glazed. Mum cheat: I had reached a zen-like level of existence where any ingredient vaguely the same colour was a fine substitute, and measuring anything was too hard.

[picture of pancake-like “rocks” melded together.]

11. Chocolate cake.

Yep, for reals. Big finish. Luckily this was a biscuit base with a pure chocolate top. Hello again, thermomix!

Kid involvement: Licking the bowl (Louisette)/showing no interest whatsoever (poor over-fed TJ). Taste: Chocolate. What’s not to like? Okay fine; I haven’t actually eaten any yet. I’m just about to, honest. Healthiness: Hah, lol. Kid response: Too tired to care. Literally zero interest. Mum cheat: THERMOMIX SMASH. Also, Chris does the dishes.

[picture of cake]

I published this post, then went back and tried the chocolate cake. It was excellent. Butter, biscuits, chocolate, then chocolate on top. Rather rich, but easy and fabulous. I shall try to hide it from the kids tomorrow.

 

Chris came home from work to find me wild-eyed and bustling, with the children poring over vegetable art and things bubbling, roasting, and mixing all over the kitchen. After a little while, he came to me and said, “Hmm… might you be having a manic episode?”

Why yes, I am!

 

*While writing this post I tried to come up with fifty “interpretations” of the ten recipes. Some were fairly legit (four different types of smoothie, sure), some were moderately legit (you can make jam tarts by putting jam in the pastry, or cheesy tarts by using this egg-and-cheese mixture), and some were literally a list of “foods that can be eaten from a pot”. I managed to nearly reach thirty recipes by including a list of “other types of tarts that also use pastry” but fifty? Not a chance.

**This is actually true. Weird textures and slight variations in flavour cause me much pain. Don’t get me started on under-ripe/over-ripe fruit.

 

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Playing Fast and Loose with History

It’s possible you’ve heard that after ten glorious months, “And Their Souls Were Eaten” is just about to have its final release posted. It’s an interactive serial story that ran for ten months with (roughly) weekly updates.

The total word count is around 370,000 (you get about a quarter of that per read-through) so I’m feeling QUITE pleased with myself right about now. (I’m also apologising to my kids quite a bit and promising that when I’ve finished my next two deadlines it’ll all calm down quite a bit.)

Steampunk never tries to be accurate or even plausible historical writing, although a good steampunk writer will have a solid reason for every change they make (for instance, this story has airships because airships are awesome).

While writing “Souls” I amused myself by adding a bunch of real historical people into the story. For the more famous ones, I disguised them by using their lesser-known names for a while. I happily shifted people around the world for my personal amusement, and fudged their ages a fair bit.

There are therefore very mild spoilers for these characters. Feel free to go and read the entire story first. And don’t think they’re safe from death just because they’re real people. At least two are 100% doomed no matter what. The only question is… which two? You’d have to PM or email me to find out (fellissimo@hotmail.com). Or just read the story a bunch of times, and see who doesn’t survive.

 

 

 

SPOILER SPACE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In (VERY roughly) chronological order:

*Charles Dickens. Because how could I not include the most famous writer of serial stories?

*Genevieve Deringer (yes with one ‘r’) is a fictional member of the real Deringer family (who invented Derringer rifles).

*Thomas Molyneaux was a British Heavyweight boxer (of African descent) and extremely famous and successful. I don’t think I ever named him, but I had Nox rescue him from a soulless man in an isolated forest encounter (and then had far too many characters, so it remained a random encounter).

*The exiled King Charles X of France (yes, he was in Austria for a while, and died of cholera).

*Fairy Fay is fictional, but her name was taken from a woman who may or may not have been killed by Jack the Ripper.

*Ada Lovelace (and the Earl of Lovelace). Because steampunk. She really did try and invent a flying machine as a teenager (and wrote a book about it) and had her first child in 1836.

*Isabella Bird. Was chronically ill and told to travel “for her health”. She was a deeply Christian woman and a suffragette. After attempting to ride side-saddle up a volcano, she rode horses “like a man” forever after.

*Madame Cama. Like Isabella Bird, she was a suffragette (although her main focus was independence for India) who had at least one marriage and seemed to do rather better when it was over. Sadly, she and Isabella never actually met.

*Harriet Tubman, our third suffragette, was certainly not travelling Europe in 1836, not least because she was about 14 at the time. But one of her many awesomenesses was being a suffragette, so I borrowed her—in part to acknowledge all my North American readers (who had to suffer through British English this story, poor dears).

In fact, Michael Bay and I had a chat just last week over tea and cocaine and he apologised for stealing my idea that every work of historical fiction must include Harriet Tubman. (We’re cool now, although he still says the “Choices That Matter” app should be teal and orange instead of black and white.)

*Alexandre Dumas. When I was a teenager one of my best friends lived on “Dumas” street, and although we were aware of the writer we were rather more amused by alternate pronunciations of his name. The more I research the Victorian Era, the more I realise it wasn’t nearly as white-white-white as it is often portrayed. I only discovered last year that Dumas was a black man.

*Adah Isaacs Menken. This fascinating Creole actress and poet was one of Dumas’s many mistresses.

*Selika Lavevski was a very well-known and skilled equestrian circus performer, and drop-dead gorgeous to boot. Yep, I bet you thought I made all that up. I didn’t.

That studio photo was taken from here.

*Gustave Eiffel, long before the Eiffel tower was built.

*The French Fencers: Joseph Bologne and Chevalier d’Eon really were famous late-1700s fencers; an African man and a person who switched genders at least once. They’re only in one very minor (but badass) scene. Yes, Joseph was also a virtuoso violinist!

*Coenraad Van Houten and his father, who were real Dutch chocolate innovators (and who were smart enough to guard their secrets).

*Captain Ching Shih was a real and very successful Chinese pirate with an enormous fleet.

*Princess/Queen Victoria, who took the throne just after her eighteenth birthday in 1836. She was a fan of Charles Dickens.

I’ve probably forgotten some people, so let me know if you think you noticed someone!

I absolutely recommend googling all of these complicated, successful, diverse and talented people. They are well worth getting to know.

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News about “Choices That Matter” story app.

Eep, I really haven’t written for a while.

In my defence, I am in a whirlwind of writing as I finish “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”, write the sequel to “Heart of Brass” (it’ll be a trilogy by the end of next year), and research and write [redacted] for [redacted], which is terribly exciting.

First things first, the Tin Man Games story app formerly known as “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” (after the first story, which I also co-wrote) is now known as “Choices That Matter”. It’s still on iOS and Google Play, and the finished tales will eventually show up on Steam.

So, I co-wrote the first story, “And The Sun Went Out” (from arc 4 onwards)

I wrote the second story, “And Their Souls Were Eaten”

I shall be editing the third story, “And Their Heroes Were Lost”.

All in all, KG Tan and I have made sure our fingerprints are all over all three stories. (For those not in the know, KG Tan is the project head of both “Choices That Matter” and “Miss Fisher” and he wrote rather a lot of “And The Sun Went Out”. He’s the last line of defence when it comes to editing, especially coding errors, and he is a spectacularly gifted person as well as a genuine friend.)

Phill Berrie was the first-line editor for “And Their Souls Were Eaten” and he is the writer of “And Their Heroes Were Lost” (which is seriously excellent!)

 

So let’s talk “And Their Souls Were Eaten”, since it’s my big beautiful baby. It had forty updates over 10 months, and the final update will come out within days. The final word count is around 377,000 (which is impressive until you compare it to the 15-month “And The Sun Went Out”, which came in just over 600,000 words).

YES in case you were wondering, it is connected to my other steampunk stories (they’re all connected). It takes place in 1836 Europe, well before any of the other stories, and the central problem of the story is different to all the rest.

Whenever I write interactive steampunk, I decide one one version of the story that is the “canon” version—the least contradictory version. When it comes to “And Their Souls Were Eaten” the canon version is as follows:

 

SPOILER SPACE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. The character is male (or appears to be), and after eating the soul of Charles Dickens they ultimately “become” the Charles Dickens that we know from “real” history (minus the horrible behaviour toward women, because I want to like him and it’s my story dammit). He writes all the Dickens stories just as they exist in our real world. The character might just show up in the novels (as “Charles Dickens”). He certainly shows up in “Stuff and Nonsense”.
  2. The soulless problem is 100% dealt with and although a few people continue to build anti-soulless towers and to keep an eye out in case any soulless escaped, by the time Emmeline Muchamore (hero of the novels) is causing trouble it’s rare to hear “soulless” or “Great Ones” even mentioned. In fact, they don’t come up in the novels at all (conveniently for those who read the novels but not “And Their Souls Were Eaten”.
  3. Activated gold is discovered during “And Their Souls Were Eaten”, and a few other magical metals are discovered in the 1840s, before the novels begin in 1853.

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Storytelling by Mr 2

TJ is almost 3; older now than Louisette was when he was born.

A couple of days ago he said, “I tell stories to you.”

“Oh good,” I said. “I’m listening.”

“This story called: Little-Big!” he said. “I biiiiiiiiiig dinosaur, and Mummy little dinosaur.”

“Oh!” I said. “I like this story. What happens next?”

“I eat you! I eat you all up!”

“Oh!” I said, as he acted out this grisly tale. “And then what happens?”

“You all gone.”

“I’m all gone,” I agreed. “There’s no Mummy here any more. And then what happens?”

“I spit you out, ptuey!” he said. “Now you back here.”

“And then what happens?” I asked.

“That end.”

 

 

It’s not his very first story – I think that one was, “Look! I make bridge! People walk across bridge! The end!”

Recorded here for posterity.

IMG_2561.jpg

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Medical Money

It’s been an interesting year health-wise.

Long story short, I have diabetes now (which is terrible, but also means I’m already on meds that are helping my overall health, yay) and I just discovered that my fifth attempt at getting stomach surgery through the public system has been refused.

I will be getting the surgery privately, which will cost around $10,000 (surgeon + hospital + anaesthetist), and will most likely happen in June or July this year.

It is extremely exciting to finally know it’s really happening!

Some people on facebook offered to help with the cost, so I’ve set up a donation page here. I’m already very touched to see so many people helping out.

For those interested in knowing all the history of this journey…

My first pregnancy was very, very unpleasant. My hips and back were permanently damaged.

This is what I looked like before having kids (not my normal attire, but close enough :P):

1

 

Louisette weighed 4.15 kilos (9.15 pounds; an average baby is 3.2 kilos, about 7 pounds).

Something in my chest was screwed up, meaning that every time I lost a couple of kilos (trying to get back to the healthy weight I started with) I got very sick, usually with bronchitis that started off acute and then hung around for months and months. The great news on that front is that I’ve recently discovered that REFLUX is the likely cause (yes, another classic pregnancy symptom that just never quite went away) and all I need is a course of pills to not just end the current round of coughing but to help heal my stomach long-term. Yay for pills! Yay for modern medicine!

When I realised I was just getting sicker as time passed, I decided to get pregnant with our second child so that I could get it over with sooner—and then get things fixed that could only be fixed after I was done having kids.

img_9950(Still worth it.)

During this period, someone congratulated me on my (non-existant) pregnancy about once a month. I also discovered that I was now intolerant of FODMAPs (ie, all sugars other than glucose—most fruit, most vegetables, dairy, and sweeteners), which made it tricky to eat healthily.

The second pregnancy gave me the gift of gestational diabetes (and firmly established that I am intensely intolerant of all artificial sweeteners, especially the “natural” ones like stevia), and intense, unrelenting pain. My hip would fall in and out of joint as I turned over in bed, and the back pain from spinal damage was so intense that it was a factor in my choice to have an epidural. (I still remember those pain-free hours with great affection. Yay for epidurals! Yay for modern medicine!)

While pregnant, I saw a nutritionist who was impressed with my sound knowledge of food groups and how to eat well. She told me to do my best within my food intolerances and physical mobility.

I exercised as often as I was able, but it was quite risky due to an irritable uterus, culminating in a hospital visit as TJ was almost born a month early. (For the record, this means my labour was four weeks long—but of course it didn’t hurt much during that early stage.)

TJ was induced (gestational diabetes babies usually are induced due to weight concerns) and weighed 4.325 kilos. He’s never shown any sign of damage from the gestational diabetes, thank goodness.

During the period after TJ was born, someone congratulated me on my (non-existant) pregnancy about twice a month. I went to a family event and a man I didn’t know gave me a pat on the belly and asked when I was due.

This photos were taken before and after TJ was born:

 

 

Did I mention I have a social anxiety disorder? And depression? And of course PPD (post-partum depression) because I was and am literally afraid of my kids, since looking after them so often causes back injury or panic attacks even now.

I lost the pregnancy weight (from the second pregnancy; I still had an extra 20 kilos from the first pregnancy) but then regained it as I dealt with daily migraines, chronic bronchitis, a new set of food allergies (salicylates, which neatly removed almost all my remaining “safe” fruits and vegetables, as well as all nuts and some meats), arthritic feet, prolapsed uterus, etc.

My stomach felt wrong. Different than before. Every medical professional I spoke to told me to wait, and it would get better. (Obviously, it didn’t. It’s normal for the stomach muscles to separate during pregnancy, and then mostly close up over the months after birth.) I was given “safe” physio exercises that underestimated the amount of permanent damage, and injured me even more (only temporarily, fortunately). I was told that plenty of women have babies and don’t complain about their changed bodies like I do. I was told that most mothers have a post-partum bulge, and I shouldn’t expect a bikini body (since when was I a bikini model??? lol…)

I saw a nutritionist, who put me on an elimination diet for 6 weeks. It became clear that salicylates were a problem for me… but it also nearly destroyed me cooking up to three different meals each night (I had three “safe” meals which I just ate every night, but of course that didn’t meet the needs of the rest of the family) as I catered for myself, kids, and Chris. My habit of regular exercise was broken, and I kept getting infections (throat, tonsils, chest, etc) that prevented me swimming.

Once I’d reached a truly horrifying weight, people finally stopped asking if I was pregnant. That was such a relief. I still find clothing really difficult, as even the biggest sizes aren’t designed for an enormous stomach bulge (most maternity clothes don’t fit me either, due to already being tall at 175cm).

I was not able to return to work at the childcare centre that I’d enjoyed so much post-Louisette and pre-TJ during the two months between months-long hip and back injuries. (Having Louisette actually cured my depression, but it comes back with physical pain/illness. There is still hope that if my body starts to behave, my mind will be non-crazy too.)

I had an operation that mitigated the effects of the prolapsed uterus, and I was able to work at a new job for about six months. Unfortunately standing/walking was getting more and more painful so ultimately I had to stop. Luckily my writing really took off at just the right time, so technically I was never out of work. Obviously writing isn’t the kind of job that keeps us in caviar and champagne (and besides, I’m intolerant of alcohol now)—the average full-time Australian writer earns around $12,000.

Go on, buy my book.

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I began to realise that salicylate intolerance had a wider range of symptoms than FODMAP intolerance (including skin rashes, irritability, and joint pain) so I decided to try to do a salicylate elimination diet to see how much of my pain/depression could be cured by eating differently (and using special toothpaste and other products—salicylates are in a bunch of things) so I slowly drew up the courage to see another nutritionist.

She and I exchanged several emails before meeting, so she was warned about my cornucopia of physical and mental conditions, and knew that I wanted help going off salicylates. Unfortunately, she decided before we met that we should ignore salicylates entirely, since it was too difficult to deal with them and eat well at the same time. So that was  a bust.

I’ll be seeing yet another nutritionist now I’m officially diabetic. Hopefully they don’t choose to ignore things that are inconvenient about me.

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence saying that fixing a separated stomach also fixes or improves a lot of food allergies. It would be awesome to be able to eat a balanced diet without it making me sick.

Another piece of good news: I am 90% migraine-free thanks to seeing a neurologist last year and working very hard to find the right medication. It’s entirely possible that with experimentation and medical assistance, I can actually reach a normal level of health for my age.

Once TJ was six months old, it was clear my stomach wasn’t going to get better, and my GP referred me to both Canberra Hospital and Calvary Hospital.

-Canberra Hospital lost the referral.

-I eventually got to see a surgeon at Calvary Hospital, who told me that my problem was probably too minor to fix and that it was out of his hands, but referred me to a CT scan place. The scan revealed that my stomach gap was 9cm wide. I returned to the same surgeon, who told me that it was too big for Calvary, and I needed to see a surgeon at Canberra Hospital. It was out of his hands. (We actually met in a room at Canberra Hospital, since this doctor works at both.)

-The scan also revealed a 2cm spleen abnormality, so when my GP wrote me a new referral for Canberra Hospital, she referred me to a general surgeon on the basis that maybe he’d want to operate on both things at the same time. When I finally saw the general surgeon, he told me the spleen thing was totally fine, showing me images to prove how it was centrally located and thus unlikely to burst and kill me (2-D images, despite the fact that the spleen is a 3-dimensional organ. I was never scanned from the side). By that time I’d had a second scan 6 months after the first, which showed no growth. So, not dying of aggressive spleen cancer. Yay. He told me he couldn’t sew my stomach back together (and acted as if the surgery was impossible, rather than referring me to a colleague who could do it), but could fix the umbilical hernia by adding surgical mesh over the gap in my stomach. I ultimately said no, since it would make the full stomach surgery more complicated and less likely.

-At this stage I contacted the health minister, and was told that my surgery would happen within three months. Wow! Unfortunately, that was still the hernia surgery, not the actually-fixing-the-primary-problem surgery.

-I looked up surgeons and found one who was both a private and a public surgeon (Dr Tony Tonks), and made an appointment with him. I figured a private surgeon would be honest about surgery, and then once he’d confirmed that the surgery was possible and useful, I’d let him know I needed to go through the public system. I did that. “I could tell which surgery you needed when you walked in,” he said. I told him I needed to go through the public system, and he told me that he was so frustrated by the lack of support for this kind of surgery that he no longer does it through the public system. He wrote referrals for me, to Canberra Hospital (to the right kind of surgeon this time), and to a hospital in Sydney where they had done that kind of surgery relatively recently.

-The Sydney hospital called and told me that they no longer do that kind of surgery through the public system.

-The Canberra Hospital apparently sent notice to my GP that they no longer do that kind of surgery. I waited nine months and then called the hospital to follow-up. After the phone rang for ten minutes, someone answered. That was when I found out that I’d been refused the surgery (sight unseen) way back in July last year.

-I gave up, and called Dr Tony Tonks’ office to begin the process of prepping for private surgery. I have an appointment for late May, and will have the surgery 3-6 weeks after that.

After all this time, I’m very excited to finally know that it’s really happening—and with a surgeon who treated me like a human being, which is a particular bonus.

 

So feel free to give me money to help me on that long road to recovery.

Several people have donated since I began writing this post.

THANK YOU.

Have a kitten.

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Ooh! Ooh! Shiny Shiny New Show!

I just watched the first episode of “Killjoys” on Netflix.

(Don’t worry; a review for a one-hour show is sure to be shorter than a review of a show that ran for eight season… right?)

Mild spoilers to follow!

Like Firefly? Like Joss Whedon (ie clever dialogue, strong female characters, exciting plots)?

This is the show for you.

The opening scene actually echoes the opening scene of Buffy, with a woman appearing frightened but ultimately being the strongest and most capable person around. (In Buffy, it’s Darla; a vampire – echoing the overall show theme of “fun cheerleader type is absolutely NOT the victim here”.)

The main girl (Dutch) of “Killjoys”, and her platonic BFF are bounty hunters. She is his boss.

Points for a cool job and setting (and the connections to Firefly are self-explanatory).

Then BFF boy (er… I’m not good with names) has a secret. Although he should have told Dutch right away, his reason for keeping it secret make sense. In fact, although certain narrative beats are to be expected, they’re all nicely done and the characters’ motivations and decisions are all fundamentally reasonable and intelligent. (As a writer I admire the challenge of having the characters’ situation constantly worsen WITHOUT the characters coming off as stupid.)

So the very first major plot point (the secret) already works on two levels – there’s tension between the two leads, and there’s tension in knowing that there’s a larger and more dangerous plot in the making.

Then there’s another bounty hunter with the same problematical kill order. Once again, it works on two levels. First, it’s bounty hunter vs bounty hunter (all the more delicious for the fact that Dutch clearly knows the other bounty hunter, and immediately goes and talks with him – I adore friendly enemies). Secondly, it’s a kill order that Dutch doesn’t want to fulfil, so now not only does she need to defy either her boss or her moral code (and partner at the same time), but she also now needs to actively protect the man who should be her target.

A third main character is introduced, and he is just as fascinating as the others, and is immediately emotionally entangled with both Dutch and BFF boy in a deep and complicated way.

And of course there’s a love triangle. Because Dutch and the BFF are so, so very close; closer than most marriage partners… but they’ve never been romantic. That suggests one of them is almost certainly desperately in love with the other; so in love they can’t say a word because their life would be ruined if the other person stepped away from them. Perhaps both of them are in love, and unable to risk saying so. We’ll see.

And of course the third character means there’ll be a love triangle. Sooner or later. And in this show, it will be done so well that I can’t wait to see it develop.

There’s one tiny, elegant moment when the third character and Dutch are at a party. Dutch is in an AMAZING dress (if I didn’t know I was attracted to women, I’d have found out today) and the third character checks her out… while wearing a hidden camera, which is feeding back to the BFF. The BFF tells him off in a way that could be either an extremely brotherly feeling for Dutch… or he could be the one suffering through (probably) unrequited love. I need to know how he feels! And her! And the other one!

Then there’s yet another character who is clearly very important, and very deadly, and has an extremely complex relationship with Dutch. He has power over her… and she has power over him (which she definitely wishes she didn’t have). It’s not clear if he hates or loves her, but it’s almost certainly both. There is a perfect moment at the end of the episode when we see this fantastically strong character collapse into a frightened little girl without a word spoken. And we already know she’s right to be scared.

I actually noticed the music of the show (in a good way, because the emotional mood was so delicious), which I almost never do. And even in that moment, with Dutch’s necklace, there’s another source of tension (internal moral tension this time, which is ALSO linked to the Third Main Character Guy and his past and his decisions).

So, in conclusion, we have three very compelling characters in compelling relationships with one another, and with an incredible array of challenges and secrets and enemies. I am so stressed out! I already care so deeply for all three main characters.

Almost every scene and plot beat does at least two things at once (purely from the script; the visuals, world-building, etc are all delicious too). That is simply wonderful to see, and it motivates me to strive to write so well. In fact, I’m writing this blog to analyse some of what was so clever about the show.

It also motivates me to immediately watch all ten episodes, then rock back and forwards in the foetal position until I get the rest. Then more. Then more.

As of this moment, this is my favourite TV show. Ever.

 

Edited to add: And yeah, bad stuff happens in this show… but not really. There’s supposedly an attempted rape in the opening scene, but it would take a very green viewer to think for a second it was really going to happen.

Then there’s the enslaved cage fighter… who still has all his pretty pretty teeth.

And of course the opening torture scene, with no blood and plenty of quips.

Edited after seeing the second episode: Haha! Someone did lose a tooth this episode, but of course it was just a bit character and a baddie, not one of our beautiful boys.

This isn’t a criticism! In its own way, “Killjoys” is just as much a safe & charming drama as “Gilmore Girls”, despite all the murderin’.

 

I’m hazy on copyright law, so in lieu of a proper show pic, here’s something from my own image collection.

 

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Another beautiful woman who happens to be a cold-blooded killer.

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