“Stormhunter” flounders as Satalyte falls to Earth

Most small publishers stop running within two years. Which is not surprising, when you consider that the large publishers make a loss on the vast majority of the books they produce. It’s the occasional bestseller keeping everyone afloat. People just don’t read enough books.

With that reality, small publishers deserve more credit rather than less. They know they’re probably going to fail. In my experience, publishers are greater dreamers than writers—writing, after all, costs very little.

Satalyte Publishing accepted my novel “Stormhunter” some time ago, but ultimately has just decided to close their doors. It’s not an easy choice, but I became friends with the couple running the show, and I’m glad they were smart enough to step away from their beautiful dream before it became a nightmare.

So, the fate of “Stormhunter” is once more a blank. It certainly eased my concern that I have SO much paid writing work to do already, and that “Heart of Brass” is safely published and in the hands of readers all around the world.

Despite an unfortunate end to our professional relationship, I have gained several good friends and quite a bit of useful knowledge from my journey with Satalyte. The publishing house is no more, but those friendships will last forever—and all the more because of a shared experience of grief.

Like many small publishers, Satalyte deliberately published the kind of books that are excellent, but not considered “marketable”. They made publishing better forever, and I’m grateful to them as both reader and friend.

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Little Miss Helpful

For those who aren’t up to date on their classic picture books, “Little Miss Helpful” is about a person who’s always trying to help people and ultimately makes their lives much, much worse. One of her friends is sick and trying to rest, so she shows up to help. She wakes him up over and over again in the process of attempting to clean for him (destroying his kitchen in the process), and ultimately both are injured and I presume the friend gets pneumonia and dies. (I’m extrapolating from the fact that he ends up in a pond.)

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(Pictured: An unrelated children’s picture book.)

So this week I’m struggling to accept the fact that an introverted kid who is not mine doesn’t get to sit next to her best friend (aka my kid) six hours a day (but is still able to play with her multiple times a day). Her mum is long since over it but I’m still in overprotective mode.

Today I have a brand new drama that also fits the “Felicity Banks clumsily attempts to help a person/people who would be much better off if she didn’t bother” narrative.

The oversimplified version—also the version that I’m emotionally responding to—is that I wanted to write a story with a protagonist who was disabled, in part because that’s one of the many groups suffering from Trump’s power… but it has become clear that I’m not smart enough to cause more good than harm.

Like most oversimplifications the above is not entirely true, but has an element of truth in it. It was mostly a structural issue that caused me to need to drop that particular aspect of my protagonist. Still. . .

It’s hard for privileged people to learn how privileged we are. It doesn’t matter how many advantages you’re born with, life is hard. Stuff happens. And when someone points out that an aspect of their life is harder than yours, it hurts. It feels like your own struggles are less legitimate. When you’re trying to remember whether “gay” is still a insult or not, and then you find out that intersex is a thing that you also need to understand and learn about, it feels like people are just taking offence no matter what you do.

Those feelings are knee-jerk reactions, and they’re not actually true. There’s a really thoughtful article about emotional exhaustion here.

So yes, privileged people also have struggles. But part of being a decent human being is to get past that knee-jerk “Arg too hard!!” reflex and realise that it’s vitally important to acknowledge other people’s struggles, and to use what power we have to help others.

I’ve been passionate about discrimination against people who are LGBTIQ since before I knew that one of those letters applied to me. I’m a Christian and have felt since my teens that Christians treat gay people and Muslims poorly—which is exactly the opposite of what Christian behaviour should be. But even thought I’m disabled myself, I’ve never fought for the rights of people who are disabled. (Partly, if I’m honest, because I’m still coming to terms with it in my own body and mind… after fifteen years.)

The term “Social Justice Warrior” is an insult, but since Trump was voted in as US president the world is badly in need of exactly that kind of warrior to mitigate the damage he is doing to pretty much every vulnerable minority group anyone can think of.

 

When my daughter found out about Trump, she gave up her allowance for months so she could donate it to kids and communities in the third world. I thought about what I could do and realised that financial help and/or things that involve me leaving the house (like protest marches) are rarely an option. But I still have a working brain (sometimes) and I have two powerful resources at my disposal: my imagination, and my readers. If I write interesting and diverse characters, it will help all of my readers to understand and empathise with people who are different to them. And it won’t feel like work.

I can’t earn a living wage; I can’t walk or stand or march without pain; I can’t vote in US elections; I can’t run to Nauru and singlehandedly gather up all the innocent children and bring them safely home with me; I can’t roam the streets making sure non-cisgender people aren’t getting beaten up; I can’t teach manners to Islamophobic trolls; I can’t stop Australian politicians from stoking racist fears in my own country—but I can write.

Here is a music clip (technically an ad for last year’s Paralympics):

 

 

I watch this all the time. It’s one of the greatest music video clips ever made. I actually have a real-life problem with Louisette being jealous of people with physical disabilities because of this clip (specifically, she wants to have either one leg—so she can do a kick-ass hopping high jump—or no arms so she can be an awesome drummer). I have to keep explaining to her that if she wants to have the amazing abilities of these musicians and sportspeople, then she has to train like they do.

Unlike most inspirational stuff (which is nauseating at best, and insultingly incorrect at worst) this actually works for me. I know that every single person in this clip has thought, “My life sucks! I can’t do anything! My body is holding me back from the life I want to have! This is so unfair!” at least once. I’m technically disabled physically, but my depression usually bothers me even more than the physical side, so getting told to look on the bright side or cheer up (by healthy, not-depressed people) often actually means, “Stop bothering me with your pain.” The clip above makes me feel good with the music, and means more to me than any other song because every person in it still has big parts of their life that suck. It hits the exact right place between pity and awe (both of which are foolish reactions able-bodied people often have to people who are disabled, ie “Oh, poor you!” or “Wow, you’re SO brave!”). Actually, people who are disabled do have unique challenges, but they’re also just… people. (There’s an interesting article about the social pressure to be the “perfect” disabled person here.)

The clip cleverly erodes the patronising pity I might feel towards people who are physically disabled in various ways. There really are certain elements of physical disability that are wicked cool. These are my two favourites:

  1. Prosthetics. The whole field of prosthetics is evolving so quickly that it’s incredibly exciting. Those curved “running legs” sportspeople use are actually faster than normal legs. There are other prosthetics that also do certain things better than nature. I’m with Adam Hills (who, incidentally, has one leg): Instead of calling people “disabled”, he says we should call them something that reflects how freaking cool their bodies are. Hills suggests “mutants”. Like, X-men style. Obviously that’s not going to happen, but there’s truth in the comedy.       Now that I think about it, I actually had a one-legged romantic interest in “Scarlet Sails“, just because piracy does rather lend itself to non-standard body shapes. She even has a slightly-awkward sex scene due to my remembering Adam Hills talking about how he always needs to remove his prosthetic leg before sex. And in “After the Flag Fell” the main character almost certainly loses an arm—not just because steampunk lends itself to cool prosthetics, but because he’s an actual historical figure who lost an arm due to a battle wound.
  2. As a failed linguist (literally; I failed my second semester at uni) and a retired cross-cultural missionary (also literally; for ten years I worked towards a career in Indonesia teaching English etc to kids in the slums), I’m fascinated by the deaf community. Sign language is such an interesting set of languages, and the community itself is just that: a community. A lot of deaf people who could have their hearing restored through technology choose not to, because their deafness is as much a part of their culture as breasts are to a woman (As a breast owner, let me explain: So what if I’m not breastfeeding and never will? So what if my breasts require expensive specialised clothing and constantly get in the way? They’re mine and I’d be VERY upset if they were removed).

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(Picture: Would YOU waste time looking at her wooden leg?)

So as I was working on the outline of an interactive story, I had an idea. I could have the reader choose a disability for the protagonist from three options:

  1. Someone with a double above-the-knee amputation. This is a significant disability in the real world, but in my world the character lives in an enormous floating city (influenced by, among other things, the Bajau people, a refugee people group who live almost entirely on water and have extraordinary abilities as a result) so I wanted to write that they had the usual prosthetics (cosmetic, running, practical, “shorties”, etc) as well as a prosthetic tail that makes them look like a real-life mermaid—including a superior swimming ability. I’m already jealous of this character’s ability in my mind, despite the fact that they’d also have significant disadvantages.
  2. Someone who is mute. Originally I wanted to write a character who was both deaf and mute, but a writerly friend pointed out that not being able to describe sounds would cut back on sensory immersion (a vitally important aspect of writing; my writing isn’t good enough to make up for it) so I toned it back. The protagonist’s city is made of transparent spheres, and getting from one to another is slightly awkward. I’d already designed it as a place where everyone uses sign language every day to chat through the glass during that awkward transition from one sphere to another. As I was thinking about the real-world deaf community, I developed my setting into a place with a large minority of deaf-mute individuals (not such a surprising thing, given a recessive gene for a condition causing people to be deaf-mute, combined with a relatively small population). That way I could develop a whole bunch of different and complementary sign languages (slang, trading, one-handed, something specifically for talking underwater, something specifically for the protagonist to talk privately with their best friend, etc). It would be such an interesting and fun world! Languages are fun! I’m also borderline bilingual (Indonesian) and have lived in Indonesia with Indonesians for six months, and observed firsthand the way language changes the way I thought about things.
  3. A phobia of deep water. This is actually one of my own (extremely numerous) phobias (making research a breeze), and of course would be very difficult when the protagonist lives in a floating city. Unlike depression, it’s specific enough (and has so little effect on my actual life) that I could write about it without getting depressed myself (I’ve written a story about the real-life experience of depression, but it’s…well, depressing). Although I wouldn’t recommend an anxiety disorder to anyone (duh), it DOES have the positive side effect that I deal with fear every day, so when something really scary happens (like having a baby, or having Chris in hospital with a rare disease that is both incurable and potentially paralysing or deadly… yes, that happened; he got better) I actually handle it quite well. It also means that the character would adjust more easily to the time they spend on land (the Bajau people get badly landsick, and so will my non-player characters—but less so if they choose option #3).

So now that everyone is dying to read my nonexistent book, here’s why it probably isn’t happening:

Good intentions are not the same thing as good results. Obviously, my aim is to write a positive, enjoyable, interesting story that also gives people with certain disabilities a chance to play a character who actually shares that aspect of their life. And a story that helps people who don’t have any of those conditions to feel that classic “oh they’re just like us” moment that we all need to have about… well, everyone who is not our physical & psychological clone.

However.

One of the places I started my research was in the “Choice of Games” forums. “Choice of Games” is a hugely influential American interactive fiction company. (I am not associated or affiliated with them in any way; but I’m a huge fan and a Hosted Games author several times over.) They work hard to be inclusive, and it shows. The forums are a friendly, welcoming, helpful, and diverse place. I have accidentally stepped on people’s feelings there in the past (again, helping where help was not wanted) and people took me aside privately, and politely taught me how to be a better person. I was also forgiven by the people that I hurt.

I have genuine friends there that have made my life better, plus a really cool arch-enemy (you can read about him in the special features of Starship Adventures), and even someone I’ve since met in real life. Some of them are very different to me in various ways, and some are very similar (poor things). But I knew that I needed to research deafness, muteness, and the lives and feelings of amputees in order to write about them in a way that did more good than harm. I also knew that my research needed an extra layer: I needed to find at least one beta reader from the groups I was trying to represent. They would pick up on dumb mistakes I made. The forum was the perfect place to start looking for those beta readers.

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(Pictured: Not a suitable beta reader.)

So I started a new topic, called something like, “Looking for beta readers who are deaf-mute or double-amputees”. I winced as I wrote “deaf-mute” and “double-amputee” but even someone with one leg has a very different life to a person with both legs amputated, so I needed to be specific.

Within 24 hours people had already replied telling me they’d thought (based on the title) that I was deliberately trolling the forums, and an admin had changed the title (with my belated blessing) to be less offensive.

So as quickly as that, I screwed up. Alarm bells began ringing, and they continued ringing as various people talked to me via the thread, communicating (gently) how very uncomfortable they were that someone so ham-fisted would be writing such a story.

I immediately googled the terms I’d used, looking for less offensive words to mean “deaf” “mute” and “amputee”, while also asking the people in the thread. I found that the correct words are (wait for it) “deaf”, “mute”, and “amputee”. I also found that it’s preferred that people put the “person” first, ie I should say “A person who is deaf” rather than “a deaf person”. But clearly the title I used for the forum topic was still deeply offensive.

So I’m already at a loss. How can I write about this set of disabilities when it’s apparently not okay to say the words aloud? Someone (rather brilliantly) suggested that hey, it’s a fictional world, why not make up words? The only problem is that I then have to explain that “sffhuiwe” (or whatever…) means “deaf”. So we’re back to square one.

I have since worked out that (a) The thing that’s offensive is that my attempt at brevity made it seem like the disability was the most interesting part of the character, which it definitely isn’t, and (b) It’s easy enough to describe the actions of the characters without using any of the words that may be offensive to some people.

Now is a good time to mention that Australians have much more casual manners than Americans. It’s actually something I love about Australia. I find it more honest and open and straightforward… but I’ve run into trouble at least once before because people thought I was being rude when I thought I was being friendly. So that complicates matters, especially since the vast majority of my readers are from the US.

In the meantime, someone I deeply respect (especially in the field of interactive fiction) pointed out that if I had the reader choose one of those three options, it was structurally saying that all three options (I called them “quirks”) were comparable. Which is just not true (even though it’s true within the story).

So that’s almost certainly the nail in the coffin for my “pick a quirk” idea. Which is sad, but a far better fate than having me write 200,000 words that made the world worse.

So that’s what I’m crying about today. I really wanted to represent disabled people in fiction, but my own limitations (and privileges) make it a terrible idea.

Having written all the above, I’m no longer sure that giving up is the right option (even though it almost certainly is) so I’ll think some more, and talk to some more people, and make my final decision after that. But before I make too much of a nuisance of myself.

Well, probably.

As always, the questions that matters most to me is, “Will this cause harm?” but the second most important question is, “Will it make the story better?” It’s clear to me that these aspects of a fully realised and interesting character absolutely DO make the story better. That’s not an easy thing to give up.

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One-Quarter

As I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room today, I realised something.

My job as a parent is to love my kids and help them grow up to be vaguely functional, content, and decent adults (to the extent that is possible). John Scalzi recently wrote a lovely post on his daughter’s 18th, opening with:

Here is a true thing: In the grand scheme of things, I’ve only had three things I wanted to do with my life. The first was to be a writer. The second was to be a good husband. The third was to make sure that any kid I had made it through their childhood without want or fear, and knowing that they were loved. When I was younger, I figured if I could manage those three things, then at the end of my days I could leave this planet with a content heart.”

As you know, dear reader, Louisette just turned five. She is a schoolgirl now, not a baby or a toddler or a pre-schooler or even an “under-five”.

If you consider adulthood to fall around the age of twenty, then my vital task of being the mother of this particular child is already one-quarter finished. Obviously I’ll still be Louisette’s mother after that, but we will both be adults – equals – and, I hope, friends.

Five and a bit years ago, Louisette opened her eyes for the first time.

Now she walks and talks and has opinions and best friends and flaws and skills and dreams. She is herself; different to anyone else in the world.

Another five years, and she’ll be ten. Tall and long-haired, and showing the first signs of puberty. Ten year olds can have intelligent conversations with anyone. They’re smarter and better than most adults, to be honest. When I taught K-10 Indonesian, it was the ten-year olds that I liked the most.

Five years after that, she’ll be fifteen, and utterly different. She’ll have a much better idea of who she is and who she wants to be. She’ll be well past puberty; wearing bras and flirting with boys. Maybe even dating (ugh! no!). She’ll have secrets from me—important secrets. She might barely speak to me at all. She might be learning to drive, or deciding where to apply for her first job. Any movie I can watch, she can watch with me.

Five years after that, she’ll be twenty. She’ll be her own creature more than she is mine, even if we still share the same house. She’ll probably already have at least one serious heartbreak behind her. She can think rationally about marriage, and will know whether she wants children or not.

Five years after that, I might be a grandmother.

All that in the blink of an eye.

 

Time for another collage! Stat!

 

 

 

 

That final photo was taken by http://thorsonphotography.com.au at the National Arboretum.

And I’ll end with another great quote from another great author (in this case, Pamela Freeman*), who is a facebook friend of mine (I knew her before she was as famous as she is now) and said, “Here’s another weird thought: she might be a quarter of the way towards being adult, but it’s the most important quarter. You’ve laid down positive brain chemistry, taught her how to love and how to think, and whatever you’ve done now is likely it: even puberty won’t shape her brain more than you have already done. I find this both scary and reassuring.”

Writers make the best facebook comments.

Since I seem to be quoting writers today, here’s some Tolstoy: “From the child of five to myself is but a step. But from the newborn baby to the child of five is an appalling distance.”

Which is more or less what Pamela Freeman (and various psychologists) said, but in Tolstoy’s inimitable style.

*She writes a bunch of different genres from historical drama to glorious fantasy to children’s books. I just finished reading the second “Princess Betony” book with Louisette, a chapter a night (and freely altering the scary bits to be less scary).

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BFFs torn asunder

I had a minor medical procedure today which I had to fast for (what, including chocolate??? Noooooooo!) and it was also Louisette’s last day of holidays before Kindy, which included a special appointment to meet her teacher and look at her new classroom (all very lovely).

I really like the school, the teacher, etc etc and I’m beyond excited that my little distraction is starting a whole new phase of her life.

The epic collages continue…

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(The big photo was taken by http://thorsonphotography.com.au)

But actually right now I’m mama-bear FURIOUS.

You see, the daycare centre next door to the Kindy has been Lizzie’s social hub since she was literally a year old. I actually got to be one of the educators in her room, back when it was just eight kids. There are a small number of kids who’ve gone through the whole daycare centre with Louisette, year by year.

Two, to be exact.

And one of them switched days after that first year, so although the kids still think of each other as best friends, they’ve barely seen each other since then.

Which leaves one. Let’s call her Helen.

Helen is an extremely laid-back individual, who even at the age of one would look at the rest of us dancing with a sweet little smile that said, “I ain’t doing that.” She’s also a freaking genius. When we were gently coaxing our one-year olds to say two-word sentences like “Big Dog”, Helen would say things like, “On the weekend I went swimming with my Daddy.” (Which I remember because I asked her what she did at the pool and she said, “Bubbles.”)

She almost never cried or complained, and I’ve actually never seen her hit another child (I’m sure she has at some point, but rarely). Over the years we became good friends with her whole family, and even coordinated swimming lessons with them.

Helen was having weekly swimming lessons for ages before we joined in (very excited that Louisette could scrape into the same class as Helen). After the lessons, we’d play in the public pool. I’ll never forget the day when Louisette was jumping into the pool from the edge (like usual) and Helen jumped in too. Her parents were over the moon – she’d never jumped in before.

When Louisette is bossy, Helen either wanders elsewhere or goes along with her idea. When Helen is reluctant to do something, Louisette leads the way.

I love both kids so very much.

So of course, being an ex-teacher at the school on top of everything else, I spoke to quite a few people about whether Helen and Louisette (and the other girl) would be placed in the same class. Everyone said that of course close friends would not be separated.

Louisette and Helen have had every adult in their life go ON and ON and ON about Kindergarten for months. They’re both happy and excited about it, but have also shown their nerves in different ways. They’ve both been reassured over and over that they’ll be in the same class.

So we show up today, and HELEN IS IN THE OTHER CLASS.

I’m a (non-practising) teacher, so I do understand that stuff happens, and that every parent is obsessed with their own kid. I’m sure that a lot of thought has gone into the way they divided up the two Kindy classes.

Still.

I cried a bunch, and spoke to the department head (and then also to Louisette’s teacher- not because she decided the classes, but to let her know what was going on). They both assured me that the two Kindy classes will do a bunch of stuff together and blah blah blah. Yes, that’s nice. That will be enough that the girls probably won’t consciously realise that we broke our promise to them. A promise that gave them security for the biggest life change they’ve had so far. But I know that neighbouring classes don’t truly play together; they build different identities around their differing classes. I know that I broke my promise to my daughter, and it isn’t a small matter at all. And I know that these two girls could have complemented each other through the entirety of their school careers, through tricky teenage years (literally the reason we picked this particular school) and beyond. But the colleague of mine who separated them may have put their whole lives on a different track.

So, like I said, I’m furious.

I have told Louisette that she and Helen are “neighbours” (Helen’s mum has told Helen the same thing). Both girls are fine, really.

Helen’s mum is reasonably calm—we both really admire one of the more-recent-but-still-very-familiar girls who is in Helen’s class, so hopefully that girl and Helen will grow closer so Helen can have a same-class BFF who’s worthy of her.

Of course I’ve rambled on too much about this, so I need to start a new entry to actually talk about Louisette.

There’s still a chance that the classes will change and Louisette and Helen will be together. But this is a new phase in these girls’ lives, after all—and the biggest change is that their school will now see more of them than their parents, and make more and more decisions that alter their lives and futures. For better or worse.

 

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Two-fifths of TJ

Sick of excessive scrolling through literally hundreds of pics, I’m gathering some of TJ’s baby pics here. It’s two-fifths of TJ because they’re only from his first year, and he’s now two and a half.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The artist formerly known as Miss Four

Last Sunday, Louisette turned five. She’s about to start Kindy. Today was her party.

Five years. She’s grown all the way from a giddying hypothetical notion to a wrinkly spew machine to a distinct person: smart, focused, creative, affectionate, gentle, passionate, and gorgeous. I took a photo a day for the first year of each of my kids lives, and those daily photos are here (TJ first, since he’s more recent) if you’re in the mood for a lot of scrolling.

Look at that girl!

(This photo and the next were taken on a professional shoot with Thorson Photography.)

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Right now I feel like just plastering every wall of my home with photos of my kids.

All the most horrifying statistics about kids are “this many kids under five die of such-and-such”. Now that Louisette has turned five, I’m pretty sure she’s going to live forever. We made it this far, right? RIGHT???

Kindy. (Note to self: Learn how to spell Kindergarten. GAR-ten. You can’t rely on five attempts and a spell checker every single time…)

Kindy is the beginning of a new era. It’s a relatively easy transition for Louisette since it’s located literally next door to her day care centre (which she’s been attending since she was a year old; at the party today there were three kids she’s been friends with since that time – and a total of six pre-existing friends who will be in Kindy with her).

Louisette is deliriously excited about Kindy as well as being quite nervous (probably because every adult in her life is so obsessed with Kindy that it’s making it seem like a much bigger life event than it is). She’ll wear a uniform and have school holidays (she’s five weeks into the longest holidays of her life right now). It changes the routine of our family – we’re finally taking both kids to the same school (sort of; TJ is in the day care of course), but the kids have significantly different routines now.

TJ has long days Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, and nothing Thursday-Friday.

Louisette is 9:00am-3:00pm every weekday (I’ll pick her up two hours before TJ) and then has school holidays completely free.

I’m hoping that I can use the syncopated routines to spend a lot of one-on-one time with each kid. They’re different creatures when they’re the only one around (which is part of why siblings are so wonderful; they open up a new part of who your kid is). I’ve had pretty bad anxiety ever since TJ was born, mainly because of health stuff. But a part of that anxiety is the need to divide my attention between them and/or make sure they’re not killing each other every ten seconds or so. Hopefully the one-on-one time will help my brain to stop panicking, and will also give me many of those marvellous, surprising moments when my kids and I are truly connected and I’m suddenly overthrown by awe and happiness and pride and love. I hope there’s a correlation between “time parent spends with little kids” and “time adult kids spend with aged parents” because I don’t want to miss any piece of their lives.

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(ProTip for mothers who feel ugly in pics after pregnancy: Hide behind children. Or, where possible, behind a tree.)

When Louisette was an infant we were at a playgroup for mums with babies all born within about a month of each other (one of those “babies” is the non-TJ gentleman in this picture, who has never missed Louisette’s birthday and who also happens to possess two top-notch parents for myself and Chris to play with while the kids do their thing).

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I noticed that a lot of one-year olds were miserable and/or terrified at their own party. The party wasn’t for them, it was for all the friends and family who loved them. But I decided that although I’d always have a party for my kids, I’d also make sure they did something on their birthday day that was for THEM. In the years since, it’s evolved to “family + activity” on the birthday day; then later a party day (my sister’s kids come to both).

On Louisette’s birthday day we went on a small local waterslide – Chris, TJ, Louisette, myself, my sister, and her two kids. It was great! Then we had lunch with my parents (including my sister and her two kids), and dinner with Chris’s parents, followed by Louisette having a sleepover at their house AND spending the entire next day with them! So THAT worked.

Louisette has been planning her party since her last party and I’ve been actively prepping for months. (Exhibit A: party bag prep)

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Party bags are a blight upon the face of the earth: junk food, noise-makers, choking hazards, and cheap horrors that fall apart (inspiring much weeping) before the guest gets to their car for the ride home. Having said that, Louisette and TJ are obsessed with them, and so is everyone their age. Since I can prep the bags ahead of time, and choose things that aren’t too irritating to me personally, I don’t truly mind the phenomenon.

Kids also loooove pass the parcel. To a kid, pass the parcel means “A PRESENT FOR ME OH AWESOMES” but when it’s actually happening it means “I AM BEING TAUNTED BY EVERYONE ELSE GETTING GIFTS AND WHEN IS IT MY TURN AND WHY DIDN’T *I* GET THE FLASHING EDIBLE BUNNY BECAUSE NOW I’VE SEEN IT I WANTS IT MY PRECIOUS WAAAAAHHH!!”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pass the parcel game happen without at least one kid sobbing. (When the kids are older they’ll get better at it and more realistic.) Last year each layer had a bunch of lollies to share with everyone! Yay! It confused and over-sugared the children, but it was a nice idea. This year my sister was moving house literally today so I said she should drop her kids and leave, and could drop them way before the party started. I had the brilliant idea of having a pre-party pass-the-parcel with exactly the right number of layers for just those four kids, and a new pirate paddle pool in the centre (coordinated to make sure one of my kids got it, to avoid confusion). It went great. (Although one of the other kids—who was having a snotty day anyway—was devastated an hour later that the party didn’t appear to include pass the parcel.)

After months of party-oriented discussion Louisette decided to have a pirate and mermaid party (exactly as she did last year—”in case some people are scared of pirates”), and I encouraged her to make it a pool party. Why? Because at this age, popularity is easy, and I can give it to my daughter for a few dollars. Pool = awesome.

We always have lots of water play at Louisette’s party, and it’s always a hit with the kids (plus super easy to clean up, and it means the inside space is quiet and neat). Chalk is also popular and easy (our house is rendered, which makes it fun to draw on), so I put some chalk outside, and a table (with fruit and fairy bread; water and cups; sunscreen and towels). I hired 1.5 babysitters (the .5 had her own kids there too) for water safety and parental freedom, and barely went outside at all. I ran the party as two overlapping parties, making it clear in the invitations that parents of confident swimmers didn’t need to go outside (in the heat and noise) at all. This cunning plan fundamentally worked. I served a fresh Devonshire Tea (chosen for simplicity while sounding fancy and adult) to anyone who wanted it, and actually enjoyed it myself. It was relatively easy to hold a grown-up conversation, which is pretty amazing considering there were twenty children on the premises. I think a few adults were weirded out about my overt enthusiasm for shoving the children outside, but oh well.

Louisette and I made an ice cream cake again, topped with faux water made from desiccated coconut and colouring (I had reports some of the kids were a bit freaked out, wondering what it was), and with lego people swimming in it. I had one friend distract the kids with the Hokey Pokey while another helped me serve up the cake. That lowered the chaos slightly, and was simple, harmless, fun that suited even the two-year olds.

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I always need a massive debrief after Louisette’s party. This blog was it. I really like the kids my kid hangs out with, and I like their parents too. We talked a lot about Kindy, and uniforms, and school stationary, and eccentric in-laws. Grown-up talking! Yay!

Look at these gorgeous kids!

Louisette’s birthday is the social centre of my year (TJ is a winter baby + a more introverted kid + not born in the major school holidays, so I invite a few close friends to his party but invite pretty much everyone Louisette knows to her parties).

See that blond cherub? I invited him and his sister to Louisette’s party last year without realising they were siblings. That day was the beginning of a whole-family friendship which is one of the best things that happened last year. That boy is TJ’s best friend, his sister is Louisette’s best friend, and Chris and I both like hanging out with their mum.

And here’s a pic of Louisette from her first birthday.

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I loved her with my whole heart that day, but I really do love her more and more as each year passes.

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Filed under Daily Awesomeness, Love and CJ, Project 365: A picture a day for a year

Procrastination Technique #452: Reviews

I’ve written about reviews before, and I’m always fascinated, whether the review is positive or. . . not so much.

The Tin Man Games app “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” (including the second story, my steampunk fantasy, “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”) has just under a hundred reviews (mostly just stars) on itunes and has just passed 600 reviews on Android.

Android apps have a cool feature where they say how many people have installed an app, and this app, our app, has been installed over 50,000 times! It boggles my mind that so many people are reading words that I write, and it makes me evil laugh when I read the desperate pleas of addicted readers hanging out for their weekly story fix:

Mario Zalout wrote:

Love it It’s hard for me to find games like this. I constantly crave the story, wanting more. However, I’ve caught up with And Their Souls Were Eaten about 3 times, and I always hate the break I have to take in between. And The Sun Went Out helps with that though, and since I know it’s considerably longer I work at it whenever Souls needs an update.

Theresa Budd wrote:

Great game but… This is a really great game but I wish they would update the bear version. I was having so much fun playing it and now I’ve got as far as can but they need to update it so I can finish the story please.

Zachery Fitzpatrick wrote:

You’ll love the story …..untill you get a nice distance in…. then the book shuts itself on your fingers and then throws itself into a fire and tells you wait for a update.

Trevor Veltema wrote:

So good Honestly the best game I’ve played, I was on it from 12am to 7 am, it’s very addicting

Johannes Haler wrote:

UPDATE MORE PLEASE The story And The Sun Went Out is easily one of THE best stories I’ve ever read. The plot about how the sun disappesring and stuff is just amazing! Please, I’ve reached the part where update is needed and I NEED MORE! Thank you Tin Man Games, for making reading fun, and making one of the best books I’ve read!

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There’s a whole sub-group who are angry that you have to pay (or watch ads) to read the whole story. Since I know exactly how much I earn (hint: not an enormous amount), I’m not entirely sympathetic to these:

Alper Can Buyuk wrote:

Ad-fest So you need “choice-tickets” to make decisions and progress the story. The only way to get these is either purchasing them, or buying a pass which allows you to progress through the app. The other option is watching a 30 second ad for a measly 3 tickets, completely breaking the immersion. Shouldn’t be a free app in the first place if this is the way the devs are gonna go about it.

Franz Airyl Sapit wrote:

TOO PRICEY. NOT WORTH IT. In my local currency, two Story Pass (needed to play this,”pay to play”) of this game is worth as much as Dragon Age Origins, a PC game. Imagine that.

Kaneki Ken wrote:

Money-grubbing morons. Whoever is the developer(s) of this game is seriously an annoying one. Not only do you deem it, unfavourable to have a narrator. To continue the story, you force us to give you money? How cheap is that of a practice! You don’t deserve money of you’re too lazy to have a voice actor!

In their defence, ebooks are sold in a much simpler system. There’s a big yellow button that says “free sample” and it’s easy to understand that the free sample is specifically designed to suck you into buying the book. These story apps are exactly the same thing, but app stores list them as “free, with in-app purchases” which isn’t deliberately misleading but it feels like it is.

Sadly, there are sometimes bugs and those reviews are always awful. The only up side is that bug-fixing horrors are someone else’s job to fix. Yay?

I love it when reviewers give useful information (and even more when they rebut the “I don’t want to pay/watch ads” reviewers).

DERPING Dubstep wrote:

Worth the read Don’t expect this to be an adventure game with managing inventory and fight enemies. If your looking for that you better off getting something else but don’t let that deter you from this experience. Like it is described by the developers the story is really choice based. I noticed how different the story was when i looked at the screen shots and compared it to mine, i was surprised. (And their souls were eaten seems really interesting hope we get an update soon)

Kat Hargis:

Amazing Currently reading The Sun Went Out- and the story is compelling and leaves me craving more. It is definitely worth to purchase the Story Tickets pass or whatever it’s called. Not only does it support the creative geniuses behind the story, but it also keeps me satisfied with long reads rather than short ones. Compared to other choice-based novels, this one is probably my top pick, beating even TellTale games. Once again, definitely worth that I initially spent. Looking forward to the updates on the story!

krazykidfox wrote:

Fantastic I’ve read both stories up to date. They’re both fantastic, and I’m eagerly waiting for more content. Pick this game up, hands down. While yes, you do have to either watch ads or buy tickets to progress through the stories, it’s honestly a very fair and generous system that stands out from all of the Free-To-Pay mobile games out there. Props to you, devs. Get this, you won’t be let down.

I don’t have a name wrote:

Awesome (Currently reading “And The Sun Went Out”)Intriguing, mysterious, smart and a bit dangerous. I love the fact that, although the choices you have are both natural and logical and not extremely different from each other, any choice you make has a huge impact on the story, changing it in major but still subtle ways. The only downside, in my opinion is the fact that you can’t redo a choice. You have the option to start the whole story from the beginning but I don’t want to repeat everything just for one mistake

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I really love that people are passionate about the stories!

The first story has been running over 14 months and is well over 500,000 words altogether (although each read-through would be about 100,000 words – the length of a regular book). 

The person known as “I don’t have a name” is going to love the stuff that happens towards the end of the first story, when literally hundreds of seemingly insignificant choices have the power to save the world. . . or doom it forever.

The final final final piece of the story will be released roughly on Christmas Day. If you want to read the whole story from beginning to end—possibly several times, so you get different experiences—then this is your moment to jump on board!!

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Filed under Advanced/Publication, All Steampunk Fiction, I get paid for this, Interactive Fiction, My Novels, Steampunk, Steampunk Series, Writing Ranting