Honesty

I’ve been thinking about the kind of racism that personally benefits me.

I live in Canberra, Australia. Despite my various health issues (that’s a whole ‘nother story… or is it?) I live in a 4-bedroom house that is “mine” in the sense that the mortgage is mine. I have a car, and two kids, and I never go hungry for lack of money.

Compared to a lot of the world, I’m unimaginably rich. There are two reasons for that:

  1. My ancestors stole Australia from those who lived here. They are still paying for that, and we (white Australia) are still benefiting.
  2. I have chosen to accept my wealth and ignore the fact that other people are going without basic medical care, shelter, transport, and even food.

It’s high time to think carefully about whether I’m responsible for all the people I could help, if I chose to give up some or all that I have.

The thinking process is slow. It has to be, because I’m trying to be honest with myself. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially for a white person. As the most powerful group (by skin colour) in our society, it is both difficult and painful for me to acknowledge that although I think I’m a pretty good person and I think I work super hard, there are plenty of others who work harder than me and gain less from it.

There are a few ameliorating thoughts, which I’m holding on to fiercely: Although it’s been amply proven that trickle-down wealth isn’t a thing, neither is wealth a “zero sum” game. That is, if I lived on the street instead of in a house, that doesn’t mean someone else has gained a house (unless I gave it to them). Eating less here in Canberra is highly unlikely to benefit someone starving in Syria.

Also, I need to work and my partner needs to work. Us not working doesn’t benefit anyone. So we need to be able to shower, wear clean and non-faded clothes, and to get to and from work. There are plenty of other things that are a minimum requirement for living in Canberra, like having electricity and a fridge.

So I’m not sure where I’m heading (if anywhere), but it’s time to listen to my white guilt and see how much of it contains truth or should inspire action.

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In the mean time…

I’m still struggling to get my head together in a variety of ways, both assisted and hampered by a family holiday last weekend.

This was the third time we’ve been to the “Captain’s Cottage” rental house near Bateman’s Bay, and we managed to get all the grandparents plus my Uncle Jim to join us for part of the time.

 

As you can see, it’s a pretty special place.

About a year ago, I started working for the awesome Australian gaming company Tin Man Games, co-writing “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” which is an interactive sci-fi subscription story, with new content released each week. It’s on itunes and Android, and after more than a year it has less than a month remaining.

On Android (which shows such details), over 50,000 people have installed the app on their devices, and over 500 people have reviewed it. That is seriously amazing.

Alyce Potter, KG Tan and I are all feeling quite weird now that the epic journey is nearly at the end.

Of course I’m still writing my own solo (+editors) story, “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”, which is hidden inside the same app. That’s the one with the bear picture.

It’s steampunk, with my magic system.

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Whyyyyyyyy?

It’s taken a few days for me to get my head together enough to blog again.

Louisette is slightly bewildered by all the people who have given money to charity because of her generosity. She knows she’s done something special, and as far as she’s concerned life is normal now (even if she’s going without her allowance for a while). Normality means watching “Peppa Pig”, asking me for lollies every few minutes, and hiding her brother’s favourite toy under the couch.

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Lucky she’s cute.

Some reassuring news: It’s very clear from statistics in places like this that the majority of Trump supporters are old white men (shocking, right?) and in fact the majority of votes from people under 45 years old were for Hillary (let alone the overall majority of voters, altogether).

This is not because people over 45 are intrinsically bad. The simple fact is that white people like myself are the majority in the Western world, and can have a happy fulfilled life without once giving a thought to the life experiences of people who have a different skin colour. Anyone living in the Western world with darker skin will not be allowed to go through life without being reminded constantly of their skin colour and how it makes their life harder. So we live parallel lives; same place, different experience.

White people, as the more powerful majority, have to make an effort if they want to to understand racism. That knowledge is unpleasant, and it just goes on and on. I only learnt in my 30s that “watermelon” and “African American” is a symbol for “African Americans are lazy”. (It’s really not a thing in Australia, but we have plenty of racist symbols and ideas of our own.) Now that I know about watermelons, I have to be careful that when I’m writing a story that happens to have an African American character in it, he or she must never eat watermelon. Ditto Fried Chicken. And a whole list of other things. All accompanied by both an inherited and a present guilt: inherited, because the simple fact is that (regardless of my own genuine and painful struggles) my life is better because my white ancestors destroyed the first residents of Australia (in ways that are still destroying lives today); present, because while I eat raw cookie dough and watch “The Flash” (true story) other people are starving. For the price of my cable subscription I could literally save lives.

My comparatively-pleasant life is built on generations of racism and greed. That’s not an easy truth to live with. White people who make an effort to actually understand what racism means tend to work hard to get to a certain point of understanding, and then stop. If you fought and risked your life to abolish slavery, abolishing the n-word seems like an incredibly minor quibble. So don’t hate the older people for having a less-nuanced understanding of racism than younger people, who had a much better starting point (thanks to the work done by those same older people).

Having said that, racism is racism. A lot of people didn’t vote Trump BECAUSE he’s openly racist (many certainly did), but everyone who did vote for Trump decided racism was no big deal. And they were so, so, wrong. As expected, incidents of racism, sexism, homophobia and religious persecution immediately rose after Trump’s victory.

John Scalzi explains non-deliberate racism neatly here.

There is a bit of genuine stupidity mixed in, too. Trump was popular among the rural poor because he is a symbol for success*, for “saying it like it is”*, for destroying the political elite*, and for “making America great again”*.

*He has declared bankruptcy several times and run several business ventures into the ground and/or based entire businesses on fraudulent schemes (such as the infamous Trump University).

*He lies constantly.

*Did I mention he was born rich?

*America actually IS great, in so many ways, but YES the rural poor get ignored and things have been going downhill for a while. Great article here. So a lot of the “burn it all down” attitude to politics comes from a place of desperation. But the saddest thing is that Trump is going to reduce affordable health care and give tax breaks to corporations, while Hillary was going to close corporate tax-dodging loopholes. So Hillary would have helped—a little—but Trump will actively make things worse for those who most need help.

So, in conclusion, Trump is bad news on a fundamental human level. I’ll leave his economics and the possibility of war for another day.

If you’d like to mourn, here is one man’s letter to his wife, and here is the song echoing around the world this week.

Regular readers are already aware that my knee-jerk reaction to this awful news is to give to charity. It’s an excellent knee-jerk reaction, and many other people are also giving right now.

Here’s a great list of charities that support all the groups Trump hates (including environmental groups). Trump is, in his own way, incredibly inspiring.

My second reaction is to gather together my potentially-vulnerable friends (women. Muslims. Non-Caucasian people. LGBTIQ people) and ask what I can do to help. I’ll be having a house party on the weekend Trump becomes president, and hopefully drowning out some of the hate with ice cream and scones (keeping in mind that public transport will be riskier than usual that weekend, because a lot of nasty incidents are happening there, or at petrol stations, or workplaces or anywhere that vulnerable people might be alone in public). I’ll be wearing a safety pin, since that has become an easily-recognisable way to say, “I am a safe space. If you need help, I’m here.” (Keeping in mind that there is a small number of people wearing a safety pin deliberately to help them find victims for their hate. Also keep in mind that if you’re wearing a safety pin you need to be prepared to act if someone is in trouble.)

Here’s an illustrated guide to helping someone facing an Islamophobic attack.

Some people are urging others to argue with their racist (etc) relatives and friends. Arguing rarely brings about kindness, so I think the better move is to find common ground. Keep in mind that very few people set out to cause harm in the world, and even the horrible things people say come from their own sense of vulnerability.

The Bible says that perfect love drives out fear, which is an extraordinary concept. Psychology says that when we meet people from a different social group, we rapidly grow to like and understand them (ie when we love them, the fear goes away). Right now I feel pretty unimpressed with anyone that voted for Trump—which means that I don’t truly understand what they love and care about and fear. I bet we have a lot in common… and the fact that I found that sentence so hard to write explains why I’m part of what’s dividing people. That needs to change. I need to change.

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Four years

I’m crying, but it’s not sadness.

My husband Chris and I have been following the US election with increasing horror today. We both chose not to speak openly in the car on the way home, because our kids were with us. We exchanged a few careful words, and I asked Chris to drive. He knew without asking that I was too upset to drive safely.

TJ fell asleep.

Louisette is four years old, a pre-schooler in a Peppa Pig shirt and a baseball cap. She picked up on the vibe and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Chris looked alarmed as I opened my mouth to explain today’s election: “A country a long long way away has just chosen their President. I don’t think they made a good choice. He’s… mean. I think now he will be able to be mean to more people.”

Louisette was silent, thinking.

“It’s a very very long way away,” said Chris.

Damage control.

“Yes,” I said. “On the other side of the world. And there are lots of other politicians who will also be making the laws and all that kind of thing. The whole system of government is designed especially so that if someone mean is the president, they can’t do too many bad things.”

“A long, long way away,” said Chris.

“That man doesn’t hurt people on purpose,” I said. “But when people ask him for help, he says no.”

“That country is all the way on the other side of the world,” said Chris. “Really super far away.”

“And you know what?” I said. “I bet all the kind people in that country—and even us, right here in Australia—will be extra super kind and we will look after all the people who need help.”

“How?” she said.

I’d just received a “Really Useful Gifts” magazine in the mail. They have a wide range of physical items—a goat, a well, a school—that are labelled with prices eg for $50 you can buy a goat so a family has a source of milk, cheese, and future income (if they have a boy and a girl goat…).

When we got home and sorted out the inevitable chaos of bags and drinks of milk and the parental win of transferring TJ into his bed without waking him, I showed Louisette the magazine.

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Louisette has an allowance of $1 per week. Sometimes she buys a 50 cent lolly. A lot of the time she saves it up. Sometimes she dips into her savings and buys herself a toy.

I steered Lizzie towards the things she’d understand best in the magazine: A school. Chickens. A vegetable garden (she always claims to love vegetables, although when we put them on her plate she says things like, “I meant in Summer I like them; not today.”)

She was excited that she could give these presents to someone she’d never met. I told her she had $20 saved up, and that she could spend as little or as much of it as she liked. I told her I would put in the same amount of money that she did.

We kept coming back to chickens. And a small business. And a pre-school. And adult literacy (she was shocked at the concept of someone who was all grown up but still couldn’t read. Reading is hard). And a vegetable garden.

I warned her that if she got all those things her money would be gone. All of it.

“What about my flower?” she asked.

I remembered it well: A little plastic thing with a smiling face that bobbed back and forth. It was the first toy she bought for herself with her own money.

“Actually,” I admitted, “that’s broken. It cost $3. So if you bought all of these things, you would have to wait three weeks with absolutely no lollies or buying anything. Then you could buy a new flower.”

“Okay,” she said. “Then I will buy no lollies for weeks and weeks, and I will buy this”— A school building—”and this”—a clinic—”and all those other things too.”

That’s when my eyes started to mist over. I counted up the cost. $80. Every bit of me wanted to buy it all with my own money, and let her keep her allowance. “That’s a lot of things, Louisette. You’d get no allowance at all for weeks and weeks and weeks.”

She nodded gravely. “You’d get no money at all—not even one single dollar—for weeks and weeks. Not until your birthday.”

An unimaginable distance.

“Yes,” she said. “That’s what I want to do.”


A lot of people feel scared of a lot of things right now. We feel helpless.

I can’t change the world, but I can change it for a few of the people who need it the most. I can be kind. I can learn about other cultures and get to know people who aren’t exactly like me—Mexicans. Homosexuals. Muslims. Trump supporters.

I can find out what we have in common, even if it takes some digging sometimes.

I can change an entire village in another part of the world by giving it a school, clinic, small business opportunity, and chickens.

I can teach my children to respond to fear by being more kind, by making more friends, and by giving more of whatever we have to give.

Four years feels like a long time. For my daughter, it’s a lifetime. But in a world that seems to be getting darker and meaner… there she is. There I am. There you are.

The world is a beautiful place.

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If you’d like your money to be more effective where it’s needed most, skip the charity gimmicks and give money to a reputable company like World Vision or Oxfam.

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Romance stats from “Choices”

My day job is writing for Tin Man Games. I’m co-writer on “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” and writer on “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”.

They are both serial/subscription phone app stories (with the banner name of “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” on itunes and Android), that release a new piece of story roughly once per week.

One of the cool things about the app is that each arc (that is, four weeks) the players get to actually see how many other players are on the same path they are.

Spoilers from “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” coming!!!!!!

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In “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” there are two possible love interests (both bisexual; the protagonist’s gender is never specified).

Sharon is a blonde Australian taxi driver with an adult daughter. She uses a bunch of Australian slang, drives like a (talented) maniac, and is addicted to danger.

Etienne is a Canadian Park Ranger of Middle Eastern descent. He’s a pacifist with a philosophical bent, and he can handle himself in a fight (…when he has to. Which is often).

Over time, the player was given several opportunities to flirt with each potential love interest, and we kept track of whether players chose to flirt or not (and how often).

Finally, in Arc 13 (yep, that’s thirteen months into the story!) we finally let the romance go ahead… if a player had been sufficiently flirtatious. We also let the player say no to romance if they wished.

We were dying with curiosity about which one of our love interests proved more popular. And the winner is…….

Well set me on fire and call me barbie… it’s Sharon!

The lovely Sharon walked off into the sunset (and by sunset I mean “hail of bullets” because the story’s climax is happening right now) with 45% of players.

Etienne snagged 30%, and the remaining 25% opted out of romance this time.

Do we have more male players than female? No idea. More males play video games, but more females play phone games. (Looking at public reviews, it looks like almost twice as many males are leaving reviews, but there are a lot of things that could be skewing those results.)

At present I’m writing the “China” side of the story. 42% of players are with me (and the other 58% are in Russia).

 

Here’s where it gets even more interesting.

In Russia (written by Alyce Potter, who created the character of Sharon), 67% of characters fell for Sharon, while 14% fell for Etienne.

But in China, 50% of characters fell for Etienne and 19% fell for Sharon.

I confess I have my own bias: Although I usually prefer women in fiction, Etienne (written by KG Tan who later surrendered his side of the writing to me because he has so many other jobs to do for Tin Man Games) is my favourite in this story.

It seems our natural biases worked for us… but how? We’ve been building up the romance for months across storylines that meandered all over the globe. Is there some third factor that drew players (and myself) to both China and Etienne or to both Russia and Sharon?

Statistics can’t answer that one…

 

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Conflux 2016

Conflux is Canberra’s speculative fiction conference. It happens every year on the October long weekend (even when that means starting in September, like in 2016 and 2017).

Each year features guests of honour from around Australia and the world; panels on a variety of topics (including deliciously blatant fanfests); workshops; book launches; pitching sessions; a dealer room; and opportunities to hang out with like-minded people (some of whom happen to be authors with varying degrees of fame). A few people do cosplay, which is always fun.

The reason I’m able to handle conferences when I can barely handle dropping my kids at school is simple: adrenaline. I’m generally moderately with it as long as I feel like I’m performing.

In 2014 TJ was a teensy baby and I had a sudden thought: I hadn’t finished a full original novel since Louisette was born in 2012. Had I lost the knack?

At around the same time I noticed there were five possible pitching sessions at Conflux: A large publisher, three smaller publishers, and an agent. I decided to pitch to every single one with a different book. That meant writing a brand new book in a couple of months (which I pitched to the agent, so I had time to edit it before any publishers saw it). That book is “Flight of Fancy.”

Satalyte accepted my pirate young adult fantasy novel “Stormhunter”. For various reasons it hasn’t been published yet, but it’s going to be published eventually. I love doing pitching sessions with publishers, because they’re always nice people and they like meeting authors.

In 2015 I pitched “Flight of Fancy” and “Heart of Brass”. Odyssey Books ultimately accepted “Heart of Brass”, which meant that this year I FINALLY had a book to actually sell to people!

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This year at Conflux I ran an interactive fiction workshop (lots of writers attend the conference every year), assisted with several panels (especially the steampunk ones), actually attended one session (very rare for me, since I get sore sitting in chairs without masses of adrenaline helping me out), and spent hours hanging out in the dealer room (mostly on the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG) table rather than the Odyssey table, because there were four other Odyssey people there and it was crowded). The familiar tension of, “Why am I talking on a panel when I don’t even have a novel published?” was gone (it’s worth pointing out that I haven’t gotten any smarter or more interesting than last year – panellists should be readers, but their writing life is almost always irrelevant), and I enjoyed the new tension of, “I’m absolutely trying to sell my book here”.

Our family car died suddenly the day before Conflux, so travel was complicated (especially with the uncharacteristically vicious weather), which complicated matters. My interview on interactive fiction at the local ABC 666 radio station was an unexpected bonus.

It was definitely fun chilling out with friends (Odyssey, Satalyte, CSFG, and others) and I think I recognised about 60% of the people. Conflux is my “home” conference, and the CSFG (which runs it) is a truly excellent group of people.

I enjoyed taking stupid pictures of my book, too.

 

This year people walked past the bar/restaurant on the way to the conference, so there was plenty of hanging out over food/drinks which was really excellent too.

This Saturday I’ll be at the Book Expo in Parramatta (Sydney), which I’ve never been to before. It’ll be interesting to see what it’s like!

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Introduction to Interactive Fiction

I thought I’d better write an entry today in case someone is a-googling after hearing my interactive fiction interview on 666 ABC Canberra at 7:25am this morning (wheeee!)

Hello and welcome.

I write both novels and interactive novels. Other people find interactive fiction via the gaming community, so there are usually elements of game play (for example, skill bonuses that are tested later). You can “read” an interactive “book” or “play” an interactive “game”. I use the terms interchangeably.

Within interactive fiction, there are two main forms: Choice-based interactive fiction (the reader makes choices from set options) and Parser interactive fiction (the reader types commands to move the story forward and/or solve puzzles). I’m strictly on the choice-based side, which is definitely more accessible for newbies. The list below will make it immediately obvious that I was drawn to interactive fiction via Choice of Games. It’s not a bad place to start. This is what games always look like on the inside:

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You pick one of the options, and click next. Easy!

Interactive fiction is almost always digital (the obvious exceptions are “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels, and the Windhammer Prize), and almost always released as a phone app on the itunes and android stores (and more, for Choice of Games).

If you’re curious about interactive fiction (IF), here are some good places to start learning more:

To learn by playing

Interactive Fiction Data Base This link takes you directly to my page, which has links to all of my games. My games are usually accessible to newbies, since I am one myself. There are a LOT of games and reviews on IFDB, and you can find lists (such as “Games for new players”) to sort through the mountain of stories.

The Interactive Fiction Comp is hugely popular, and all the games are free to play. Judging season is in October and the first half of November each year (right now!!) Usually about half the games are Parser games. Some games are a lot easier to download than others so if you get stuck just move on.

Birdland came fourth in the IF Comp 2015, and is a funny game using Twine. Free.

Choice of Games (CoG) is an extremely successful company with a clear in-house style.

Choice of Broadsides is a short CoG game that’s a perfect introduction. 

Choice of Robots is an excellent scifi CoG story.

Community College Hero is an excellent teen superhero CoG story (Pt 1). It’s not an official CoG game, but is released through their Hosted Games label.

Creatures Such as We has a more literary style than most CoG games. It’s also free, and placed second the IF Comp in 2014.

My own CoG Hosted Games (I’m not associated or affiliated with CoG in any way) are the Australian steampunk adventure Attack of the Clockwork Army, the piratical romp Scarlet Sails (which also placed 7th in the IF Comp 2015; this version was improved after the competition which is why it’s not free like the original version). I also wrote and edited for the retro scifi comedy Starship Adventures, which has a bunch of behind-the-scenes special features.

Cape is a beautifully written Superhero origin story, where you can add detail by choice. It’s a hypertext story, meaning that you click on bolded words rather than choosing choices from a list. It placed fifth in the 2015 IF Comp, and is free.

Tin Man Games releases what they call “Gamebook Adventures”. They range from the mostly-text scifi serial story “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” app on itunes or android (the European steampunk tale “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten” is the second story inside that app; I’m a co-writer on #1 and writer on #2) to the recent Warlock of Firetop Mountain which takes the famous Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone novel and turns it into a video game (including a fight system). They are internationally respected and an Australian company.

To learn by reading the blogs of reviewers (who also write games and talk about stuff)

Emily Short

Sibyl Moon

Jason Dyer

Sam Kobo Ashwell

 

To learn by joining a community

Be aware that the IF community is a small, welcoming, diverse, and kind group. Don’t be a troll. Don’t write when someone (especially a reviewer who is adding to the community with their comments and not getting paid for it) has made you feel angry.

Embrace different genders, sexualities, abilities, and nationalities.

Choice of Games forum

The Interactive Fiction Forum is very lively during IF Comp season (October/November).

 

An excellent book on Twine and writing, pitched for beginners to both

Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine by Melissa Ford

 

If you’re quick, you can probably catch me at Conflux today between when-I-get-there and 1:30 (when my workshop starts – it’s booked out already, but just email fellissimo@hotmail.com if you want to arrange something else workshop-ish). I’ll most likely be in the dealer room, since my publisher has a table (the publicist is actually hiding in this shot – can you see her elbow?)

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To learn by writing

Twine is certainly the easiest; it actually automatically builds an (adjustable) map for you. It takes about thirty seconds to learn, or ten minutes on your own. 

There are LOTS of online resources, including lists here and here about finding the authoring tool that works for you. You certainly don’t need to be a computer programmer! 

To get paid

Choice of Games pays advances of up to $10,000 for novel-length stories based on an approved outline and written with their tool, ChoiceScript. I know from personal experience that a story written for their less-exclusive “Hosted Games” label earns a respectable amount purely through royalties. Mine have earned around $1000 each, but there are no guarantees (and no limits!)

Sub-Q magazine pays for short fiction (they can be quite literary).

Contests pay a little (often not in money) but are hugely important to the community and to gaming companies, who sometimes even approach entrants to offer paid work. All the contests are publicly reviewed and judged, which is an intense emotional experience for any writer. Don’t ever interact with reviewers until after the competition is finished (and even then, always thank them regardless of what they said—every review is a precious gift, and the harsh ones are often the most useful).

Your stories must not be published, and they must be publicly available after the contest for free. Although the judging is public, they are NOT popularity contests, but based on judges being as neutral as possible in their ratings.

IF Comp is the biggest and best, but it’s NOT for beginners. Reviewers can be harsh in order to be more entertaining, or due to assuming you’re trolling the contest).

Windhammer Comp is printable (and short, and Australian) and high-status. First prize is $300, within runner-up prizes of $50. Not bad for a short story that doesn’t require learning a new tool! 

IntroComp (for games that aren’t even finished)

Spring Thing (called the Fall Fooferal if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere) is particularly welcoming to newbies, including a “Back Garden” where you can indicate that you’re new and reviewers should take that into account. It’s deliberately placed in a part of the year when the IF Comp is far away.

 

I won the Windhammer Prize in 2015, and my publisher included that story with my novel:

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Full disclosure: I have some kind of connection to pretty much everyone on this list, but every single connection is through reading their work and liking it.

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