Reading My Reviews

It’s no secret that I read my reviews. I enjoy an enraged negative review, as a rule, and I pay attention if the same criticisms come up more than once.

Tin Man Games has an app called “Choices that Matter” on iOS and Google Play, which is an interactive serial story app. I wrote about half of the first story (“And the Sun Went Out”) with Alyce Potter and KG Tan, all of the second story (“And Their Souls Were Eaten”, set in the same universe as all my steampunk fantasy), and I’m editing the third story (“And Their Heroes Were Lost” by Phill Berrie). Google Play has a LOT of reviews, so I spent literally hours last night getting up to date. I made a collection of some of my favourites.

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR “AND THE SUN WENT OUT”.

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It warms my writerly heart to hear that interactive fiction is making people get back into reading. We hear this a lot!

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I love the poetry of the first one, and the insight of the second. Gonna make sure KG Tan and the others see these ones.

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This just amused me. More than once.

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I kinda like it when people get hysterical with need as they wait for updates. ‘Heroes’ is still going strong, just slowly.

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I adore making readers cry.

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Chosen because it’s fun to see contrasting opinions right next to each other.

 

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“Action-packed, intelligent stories shrouded in mystery” is quite the poster quote.

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Yay, more crying readers. Love it.

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Poor, tormented reader.

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It’s amazing how positive and negative reviews say exactly the same thing (except in reverse).

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I love interactive fiction for its inclusivity, particularly on gender and sexuality.

 

 

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I love a detailed compliment. It’s always fascinating to see how people see the characters I’ve played a part in writing.

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I wish I could reply and let them know that there IS a villain path in the third story.

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That’s startlingly deep.

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I love it when people favour “Souls” because of course it’s my baby.

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I just love that last sentence. And yes, that is a sentiment expressed quite often. Yay?

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I agree 🙂 Phill and I both have novels published.

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It’s funny how many people want to turn stories (my novels, too) into movies. I think “And The Sun Went Out” is unfilmable because of Moti, but my steampunk novels could easily be a movie someday (if they caught the right person’s eye, which is vanishingly unlikely).

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“And The Sun Went Out” makes a LOT of people cry, so hearing that “And Their Souls Were Eaten” had that kind of impact is absolutely wonderful.

The way it tells you how common your ending is, is a really cool & unique thing in this app. Kudos to Tin Man Games.

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I love it when readers play a story over and over to get different pieces of the story or different endings.

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Aw!

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A LOT of people (including the writers) want a Moti-con. I like this review because most people automatically default to male with gender-neutral characters, but Wendy has defaulted to female. Yay!

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I do write books! Comments like this are both great and frustrating, since I can’t immediately sell them a pile of my novels.

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It’s funny (and good) how many people have an awareness of the game developers needing to be paid.

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“Not epic” is a perfect burn. And then the next review is totally different.

 

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*love*

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Turning people gay is *takes off sunnies* what I do.

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It’s funny to eavesdrop on a discussion of story methods.

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Same. We writers are just as in love with Moti as the readers. And yes, we cried too. And we badly want our own Moti-con devices.

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I am also human *wink*.

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Not MANY children could write a 600,000+ word branching narrative, but sure. You do you.

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Lol, that’s certainly an up side to interactive fiction.

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I love that she assumes a female writer, and reckons my novels would “storm the shelves”.

I get WAY more reviews (literally thousands more) for my interactive stories than for my novels. It shows how lucky I am to have been born in the right moment to flourish in the digital interactive fiction sphere.

Postcard from “Emmeline’s Empire”

Penny Blake of https://blakeandwight.com is just starting to arrange an “Author Postcard” series (starting in July, I think). I literally finished “Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire” earlier today so I was in the perfect head space.

This postcard is written in character, and designed as an ad for the story (and, because why not? for the Antipodean Queen trilogy too).

WARNING: This contains a spoiler for the general plot of “Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights”.

A3 Poster Emmeline's Empire

To Miss Venture,

I had not expected to find such pleasure in your company, nor to accomplish so much so quickly as we assist Miss Muchamore in her martial endeavours. Yet now I find myself longing to once again find myself beside the sea—and therefore beside you.

Here in the countryside the Australian heat is somewhat blunted by the surrounding hills. There are also several convenient river-side trees behind which a young woman like myself can take the waters in a relatively discreet manner. It is strange to think that this serene valley will soon be over-run by Her Royal Majesty’s troops.

Has Miss Muchamore told you she is writing an autobiography, beginning with the strange history of her magic-infused anatomy? Truly the 1860s are a wonderful time to be alive. Given that the first volume of her intended trilogy is entitled Heart of Brass it seems you and I will soon have one less secret to keep. In fact her trilogy is almost complete, which I confess makes me a little nervous, as the end of Miss Muchamore’s military campaign also draws to its climax. Does she think she is going to die?

My life has been somewhat different to hers. I imagine if I told my own story it would have to be written entirely in letters, rather than in the manner of a regular novel. Perhaps I should compile it, after all! I could call it Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire after Miss Muchamore’s small holding. But letters would not be enough. There would be pictures too, including your beautiful painting of Miss Muchamore’s sister, and a tiny model of our fort for the attentive reader to build, joining our rebellion by proxy. And jewellery, since it is both lovely and small enough to fit in an envelope. Perhaps a tiny heart made of brass.

Or perhaps all this is all a foolish dream. Who would want to read the letters of ordinary women like you and I? We are both of us side characters, not heroines.

And yet.

I think foolish dreams are the most interesting kind, don’t you?

With love from your friend,

Xiong

 

https://felicitybanks.wordpress.com/2017/10/03/antipodean-queen-1-heart-of-brass/

https://magicinthemail.boards.net

 

Infinity War: Spoiler-Filled Impressions

I just watched this amazing video that has an amazingly high rate of correct theories about “Infinity War” (less so toward the end of the clip).

 

Now. Let’s talk.

I’m going to assume readers have already seen the movie, and need to talk about it.

There’s an entry here for those who just need to know who dies before they see the film.

The first scene established that Marvel wasn’t kidding about killin’ folks. I was aware that both Loki and Heimdall were at risk (for casting/narrative/contract reasons), and although both are fantastic characters brought to life by brilliant actors, killing them was the right thing to do to make a great film.

The writing throughout this film is tight. Sure, we don’t necessarily feel too close to any one character—that is the price of such an ambitious, hero-filled movie. But the film is fast and exciting and still manages to remind us why we care about each character in incredibly economic ways. For example, when some Avengers arrive in Wakanda and are greeted by King T-Challa, this happens:

Avenger Man #1: [realising the king is right there in front of him, and speaking under his breath] Do we. . . bow, or something?

Avenger Man #2: Of course. He’s a king.

Avenger Man #1: [bows awkwardly]

King T’Challa: We don’t do that here.

Avenger #1: [glances accusingly at #2]

Avenger #2: [grins at him]

This shows us a totally human moment of awkwardness, grounding the movie in an experience familiar to all of us. It also shows some of the character of Avenger #1 (the point of this example is somewhat marred by the fact I can’t remember which two Avengers were in this mini-scene), and his awkward bow, sideways glance, and realisation that he’s been had all show that he doesn’t think highly of himself, and that he can take a joke.

It also shows Avenger #2 has a wicked sense of humour.

It also shows T’Challa’s humility, confidence, and tact. He doesn’t giggle nervously or falter in the slightest when faced with other people’s nervous awkwardness. He clearly explains his ruling style & diplomatic relations in five words, and then smoothly moves on with more important matters.

Marvel is often criticised (these days) for ruining serious moments with humour. But humour used to show character (and often, at the same time, major plot points) is genuinely clever. It’s also Marvel’s signature style, and although I very much admire their courage in having real stakes in this movie (unlike so many), clever character-building humour is almost always worth having.

The characters in this film spark off each other beautifully. Thor (oh so masculine) and Star-Lord (oh so wishes he was half as masculine) are very funny together, and so are Iron Man and Doctor Strange (two arrogant geniuses).

There are man-to-man hugs in this film, which is special (even though the hugs are quite restrained, presumably due to the whole “World’s Ending” issue).

For me, the most emotional moment was when Spider-Man died. Now I KNOW he’s going to be fine. He has another film coming up really soon! But when he realises that they lost, and he’s dying, he reacts like a very brave. . . teenage human. It’s actually lovely seeing him absolutely fall apart. Tony Stark’s face as he immediately knows he’s failed to protect a child is perfect too.

Although I know Spidey can’t die at this time, he can be horribly traumatised. His innocence makes his so vulnerable. Besides, I saw him die, and I’ll breathe a little less easily until I see him in the next movie and know that he’s really truly okay.

Loki’s death was quite lovely too, as he tried all his tricks and mischief only to fail—showing his deep love for his brother in the process. He’s redeemed, and in such a Loki-ish way. I will miss him.

And poor Gamora, laughing in triumph at the idea that Thanos is too evil to love anyone. . . realising far too slowly that he truly cares for her, and that she is the key to his awful triumph. As always, she is ready to sacrifice herself.

And then. . . bubbles.

 

The end of the film was incredibly moving, even as we all know they couldn’t possibly kill off so many characters at once. The confusion is worse than anger or sadness, and it’s beautifully done.

I want to see it again, even though it hurts.

But most of all, I want to see Part 2.

 

These are the important characters in the Marvel universe, and my predictions for their futures:

Tier 1: Have at least one solo film.

Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk.

These are the oldest (from Phase 1), and thus the four most likely to leave the MCU, possibly passing their mantle onto someone else (eg Bucky could become the new Captain America). I’m pretty sure Captain America and Iron Man will die (or genuinely retire) in Infinity War Part 2. Hulk is clearly having trouble switching personas; perhaps he gets to retire and invent things. Thor is rejuvenated by recent movies and is likely to stay on for a few more, but he will need to quit at some point.

Star-Lord (very much part of a group), Doctor Strange, Ant Man, Black Panther (also very much part of a group), Spider-Man.

These guys are new and shiny, and it’s unlikely the MCU is done with them yet. Doctor Strange is the least interesting, and is extremely powerful. So powerful that he’s likely to get killed so he doesn’t just solve everything all the time.

Tier 2: Big Damn Heroes (just not, ya know, THAT big)

Black Widow, Hawkeye, Nick Fury, Loki (some of the time), Heimdall, Bucky (some of the time), The Falcon, War Machine, Wong, Scarlet Witch, Vision.

Hopefully Black Widow will finally get a solo movie at some point. Hawkeye and Nick Fury are both disposable at this point; they can retire or die. Bucky’s trajectory is upwards. He is now called the White Wolf, who is a familiar comics character, but that doesn’t mean he won’t also become Captain America. Not sure about the rest except I think Scarlet Witch will stay because she’s young and it’s a logical choice to use her as part of a literal new generation. She and Spider-Man are similarly aged, very attractive, and with EXTREMELY different outlooks and life experiences. It would take time for them to get close, and it shouldn’t be romantic (Spider-Man has MJ; Scarlet Witch is going to need time to get over Vision) but I think it would be really interesting for both characters. Other than that, anything could happen to the members of this list.

Tier 3: Part of the Group

Guardians: Gamora, Rocket, Groot, Drax, Nebula (some of the time), Mantis.

The sisters had similar skills and issues, so it’s possible we see more of Nebula now—but it’s more likely she simply goes off on her own. Rocket, Groot, Drax, and Mantis are all really fun. . . but it’d still be a great group if Drax and/or Mantis were knocked off.

Wakanda: Shuri, the queen mother Ramonda, Okoye (Dora Milaje leader), Ayo, M’Baku.

Shuri is the new supergenius in town. The queen, as a Parent Of Hero, is likely going to die (very possibly of natural causes) at some point in the next few years. Okoye, Ayo, and M’Baku are always in genuine peril. They’re in that sweet spot for being killed: interesting enough to miss, but not so much to stick around indefinitely.

Tier 4: Their plots exist in relation to the heroes (although they’re often AWESOME in their own right).

Pepper Potts (Iron Man fiance), Jane Foster (Thor girlfriend; apparently broken up), Peggy Carter (girlfriend to Steve Rogers; also became head of SHIELD at one point and had a cruelly short-lived TV series), Agent Coulter (recruited people; killed in the first Avengers movie but got better and has a TV show), Wong (effectively Dr Strange’s assistant), Nebula (Gamora’s sister and Thanos’s daughter).

One hopes that Pepper Potts and Iron Man finally settle down. Either that or horribly ironic death for one or both of them. Jane Foster may never be mentioned again. Peggy Carter died of old age a while back. No one is in love with Wong, so he’ll probably remain in the sidekick zone for plenty of time to come (although Doctor Strange comes across as quite cold, so the writers may kill Wong in order to deepen Doctor Strange). Nebula is unlikely to die I reckon. It would be too similar to Gamora’s death at this stage.

 


Here is my son yelling Wakandan war chants with me:

 

I. . . can’t stop.

 

A little piracy

Last weekend I ran a stall at CanCon for three days. It’s Canberra’s biggest board game gathering, and this was the 40th year.

 

I wore corsets! It was so exciting! And there was a T-Rex. I’ve already booked the exact same stall location for January 2019.

I also wore my pretty pretty princess outfit:

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I didn’t actually take a proper camera. Most of these photos were taken on my kindle (NOT recommended, but awfully handy at times).

I’m uncommonly proud that I wore my hair three different ways over the three days. I’m often too tired to brush it before leaving the house.

My new and improved post-surgery body held up pretty well, although I was as careful as I could be while still staffing the stall. I rested a lot today, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t do any permanent injury to myself (I had a lot of ominous blisters and aches and suchlike, but luckily I have a lot of hospital-grade bandages which I used with great care, changing them every day). My wheelchair was handy because it made me feel comfortable sitting down (otherwise I’d feel rude), and because the armrests help support my back.

I sold a massive amount of books, and let a lot of people know about the free pirate ball happening on Saturday 17 February. My daughter also celebrated her 6th birthday on Saturday morning with a dress-up pool party (while my fellow author, Annabelle Lee, manned the stall at CanCon). Two of the younger siblings of her friends are BFFs with my son, so I took one of my favourite sets of photos ever:

These three boys are just as adorable in real life as they look in the pictures.

On the last day of CanCon I received the full set of illustrations for The Monster Apprentice! Tash Turgoose does photorealistic pencils and I’ve been dying to see her work. Here are three small versions of some important characters: Captain Sol, an evil pirate; the heroine, Dance, coming face to face with a heest monster; and Ransom, who. . . well, you’ll have to read the books to find out.

 

You can immediately see that the fantasy world of Rahana was inspired by Indonesia. And that asking to have Tash Turgoose illustrate the books was a genius move on my part. I saw her book, Makeshift Galaxy, and I’ve been in awe ever since.

Why YES, she is one of the authors (and writers for that matter) for Murder in the Mail. Incidentally, I’m already taking pre-orders for Murder in the Mail. Details in the forum here.

The Monster Apprentice will be launched at the pirate ball on Saturday 17 February. It’s Book 1 of the Heest Trilogy, which is suitable for 10-14 year olds (and also people like me, that just like a great story). It’s likely there are more Rahana stories to come after this trilogy, too.

Sandy Fussell is one of my absolute favourite children’s authors (I own the entire Samurai Kids series), so I asked her for a cover quote for The Monster Apprentice. She gave me a selection! Here’s one:

  • The Monster’s Apprentice will transport you somewhere wonderful, unlike any world you’ve imagined. Caught between terrifying Heest monsters and murderous pirates, with only her name for a weapon, Dance must defend the ice island of Luar and its people.

She also said “I wish I had Felicity’s imagination” which is simply ludicrous. If you read any of her books, you’ll know why.

But I don’t mind a little flattery. I am a writer, after all.

And here’s the final trailer for The Monster Apprentice, for the three humans who haven’t seen it yet.

https://www.youtube.com/my_videos?o=U

 

My 2017: No wonder I need a lie down

What an epic year. I spent over 15 years of my life writing novels that nobody would touch, and now that it’s started to rain it’s pouring (which is a wonderful thing).

I spent vast amounts of time on the Tin Man Games “Choices That Matter” app (Google Play and iOS). It’s a story hub for serial interactive tales and it has over a million downloads of the free sample sections. The three stories so far are:

“And The Sun Went Out”

A near-future scifi which I co-wrote with KG Tan and Alyce Potter. It had 60 updates over 15 months, and clocked in at just over 600,000 words (longer than “War and Peace”). Each read-through is about 150,000 words.

“And Their Souls Were Eaten”

I wrote all of this one (edited by Phill Berrie and KG Tan), set in the same steampunk universe as my Antipodean Queen novels, but with a completely distinct magical problem (and taking place in Europe). The finished tale is 400,000 words long, and after that I had a nice lie down.

“And Their Heroes Were Lost”

Phill Berrie is writing, and KG and I are editing (oh how the tables are turned, hey Phill?) This is also sci-fi, but I don’t want to give away any more than that! Phill is still working on this story, and his fans are clamouring for each new update.

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I also wrote, edited, and published the novel “Antipodean Queen 2: Silver and Stone“, and will be finishing that trilogy in 2018 with “Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights” (that’s right: the title has changed since Book 2 was published).

AND my actually-rather-good pirate fantasy trilogy for kids (like Narnia, but with pirates) that I wrote many years ago has been accepted for publication and shall begin release with a free pirate mini-ball (live music, prizes, costumes, and everything!!) on Saturday February 17th.

“The Monster Apprentice” is the first book. And it’ll be illustrated, too! Plus (shh don’t tell) one of my very very very favourite Aussie authors is going to read it and give me a cover quote!

And I have three other very exciting projects coming out in 2018! One I can’t talk about yet, one will be published on the premium label at Choice of Games (they pay VERY well for books that make the premium grade), and one is called “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” and is a murder mystery told entirely through postcards, letters, objects, and art. That link is to the shiny new forum where readers will be able to talk to one another about who they think is the killer, and how much they love all the art I chose!

2017 was a great year for my writing, and 2018 is going to be even better.

I is happy.

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Things are looking up.

Dear Star Wars: Here is Your Script

I don’t often write fan fiction.

So this kind of happened as I wrote my thoughts after seeing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (I had so many feels it took me days to write and is 3000 words long.) It’s a VERY interesting  film for writers, and so of course I analysed it in that vein.

The full (very spoiler-y) article is here, on a shiny new forum I’ve set up for the “Murder in the Mail” series. You can read the article immediately, but you need to register to comment. (If you register, you’ll get about three emails a year about the “Murder in the Mail” series, unless you unsubscribe.)

The “Murder in the Mail” series is a set of cozy mystery stories (one story so far, to be released in August/September 2018) told entirely through letters, postcards, objects, and art posted to the reader over the course of eight weeks. The forum is for fun (discussing things like Star Wars, and so on), and also for readers to talk amongst themselves and try to figure out the identity of the murderer before the final letter arrives.

There is (arguably) a VERY mild general character-based Star Wars spoiler below.

Basically I figured out the One True Way to resolve all the possible romances of the current Star Wars trilogy. Because I am a genius.

Insert anti-spoiler kitty!

 

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Rose: *Takes Rey to a storage area where they can talk privately* So you’re a big hero, just like Finn. I guess you guys are… you know…
Rey: Um. *blushes furiously* Well I might sort of kind of think of him a little tiny bit that way. Maybe.
Finn: *Emerges bleary-eyed and shirtless from under canvas, and clutches it around his hips so the girls don’t see EVERYTHING* Rose? Rey? What are you doing here?
Rose and Rey: *wide-eyed panic*
Rey: You. . . heard us talking?
Finn: Me? Nope. Nuh-uh. Didn’t hear a thing. *Accidentally-on-purpose jabs his elbow into the canvas*
Poe: *Emerges bleary-eyed and shirtless from under canvas, clutching canvas around his hips, and hastily donning That Jacket* Oh, hi Rose. Hi Rey.
Rose and Rey: Ohhhhh! Er, we’ll just be going now.
Rose and Rey: *become best friends*
Finn and Poe: *adopt half a dozen children and live on a porg farm forever*

Pirate Ball

It’s official. I can wear corsets again.

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And with three book launches this year, it’s not a moment too soon.

Do you live in Australia?

Do you live reasonably close to Canberra?

Do you love the Narnia books?

Do you love pirates?

Do you love live music?

Do you love dancing (and/or watching others dance)?

Do you love dressing up (and/or seeing those who do)?

Do you love chocolate coins and fairy bread?

Do you love prizes?

On Saturday February 17th 2018, the first book in my tween magical pirate trilogy will be released with an enormous free PIRATE BALL hosted by the epic Earthly Delights Historic Dance Academy.

They have agreed to run a pirate ball for their monthly extravaganza (7pm-11pm, $25) AND a free mini-ball/book launch for me from 6:30-7pm with lots of great beginner dances for all ages. My kids will be there, that’s for sure.

There will be prizes for best dressed, and for the treasure hunt.

There will be live music.

There will be professional dancers scattered among the crowd.

There will be wonderful and enthralling outfits both piratical and historical.

There will be free food.

There will be my Rather Excellent fantasy pirate novel, The Monster Apprentice, on sale and ripe for signings (along with Heart of Brass and Silver and Stone, naturally).

Date:

Saturday February 17th 2018

Location:

Canberra Baptist Church Hall, Currie St, Kingston

Times:

Free book launch and mini-ball 6:30pm-7:00pm including prizes and activities.

$25 full pirate ball 7:00pm-11:00pm

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Avast! Unlock yer daughters and belay any other plans!

Feel free to RSVP in the comments, and let me know if you’d like me to wrangle some discount ball tickets for you. I might just be able to find some… one way or another.

New News!!

To get discount tickets to the full-length ball (7-11pm), go to:

www.earthlydelights.com.au/upcoming

Adult Tickets are $25 at the door

Online Tickets are $22.50 for adults

If your friends buy online using the code PIRATES they can buy them for $20.00 each

Murder in the Mail

I wrote a guest post here about how I fell in love with steampunk. And it’s part of a series by a bunch of steampunky types.

I’m working on a new story called “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” which will be released by Publisher Obscura, Odyssey’s imprint for “beautiful and unusual novelty and gift books by Australian and New Zealand authors and artists”.

The fundamental concept is that it’s a cozy murder mystery that is told entirely through letters, postcards, objects, and art prints—all of which are physically posted to the reader through the mail. There are seven writers altogether (one for each character, including the victim) and six artists (five from Canberra, one from Obscura who lives in Brisbane). The story runs for about eight weeks, and I chose (or in some cases commissioned) art that was both beautiful AND something that helped tell the story.

Yes, some vital clues are hidden inside the artwork itself!

The objects are also clues about the murder (or other secrets), and chosen to be small enough to post but also to engage the senses—hearing, smell, touch, and even taste. Obviously the art is somewhat visual.

I’m deliriously excited about this project, which will probably come together bit by bit over the next 6-12 months.

Here’s one of the pictures that will be in the story (as a physical A4 print):

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This is one of the pieces of art from the story, which means everyone who buys the story gets a high-quality print of this (and seven other pieces in a range of materials). In real life, the photographer is Adam Lee. His website is here.

Update: The tentative release date is August/September 2018, and before then we’ll run a Kickstarter (which will have lots of fun & unique items, and will increase the advance given to all the contributors). And there will be a forum for people to talk murder, mystery, and art. Stay tuned!

Update: The story is well and truly up and running, with the main details here.

There are also Magic in the Mail stories!

Gift Guide for Ages 3-6ish

I loooove buying presents for my kids. As in, I’ll cheerfully buy presents in June (like budget experts tell you to), and then continue buying presents for the entire rest of the year (which budget experts do not recommend). Having said that, we don’t do stocking presents in our house, and likely never will. I hate the idea of a pile of low-quality gifts. And I assure you that my kids have plenty of full-blown present-opening frenzies made up entirely of quality gifts (generally around $20 each, although often there’s one gift that is much more expensive).

We also have three Christmases every year: One for my side of the family (usually mid-December, since my Mum runs church services on Christmas Day), one for Chris’ side of the family (usually Christmas Day), and our own private small & special Christmas Eve. We light candles and open 1 or 2 gifts each (usually 1, but of course the kids want to give their gifts to each other and I try not to refuse generous impulses).

You may have heard of the Four-Gift Rule. There’s a few variations, but the idea is that parents can restrict themselves to four gifts. For example:

  1. Something you want
  2. Something you need
  3. Something to wear
  4. Something to read

 

Or:

  1. Something to play with
  2. Something to wear
  3. Something to read
  4. Something to share

 

I disagree with “something to wear” because clothes are only exciting if you only ever get one new outfit a year. Since there is more than one season in a year, my kids often get new clothes. (You’ll be shocked at the knowledge that I love buying them clothes and I’m certainly not going to only buy them clothes in December. That reminds me… Louisette definitely needs a new pirate outfit…)

But enough prologue. Here’s some awesome loot:

  1. Water. Always a winner, in virtually any form. I like a water table because then I can choose to believe that the kids won’t need their swimmers (until proven otherwise). We’ve had a water table before (which was also fun for collecting ice in winter) but after a couple of years outside it was so brittle it fell to bits. Which means I got to buy another one! A BETTER one!

This particular model was $40 from Woolies. But pretty much any one will do. The kids will love seeing the enormous box under (…next to…) the tree, too. The orange handles on the side turn wheels that make the water flow around the circle. How cool is that!

 

2. Books! It ain’t Christmas without books (for myself, Chris, and the kids). There are a million fantastic books for kids, so it’s well worth having a bit of a google, both for the stuff your kid likes, and for lists saying the best books—then you can click through for a better look at the ones that appeal. And of course this is a great time to go and support your local bookshop, too!

I noticed around this time last year that Louisette has a bent toward engineering, so I bought her books that were specifically geared (heh) to encourage girls to picture themselves in STEM careers (Science, Tech, Engineering, and Maths). Googling “STEM” in combination with “Books” and any other relevant words (age 5, girls, etc) will get you a lot of suggestions.

This particular book emphasises that things don’t work perfectly the first time. It also rhymes.

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This is also the book that inspired Louisette’s House-Car-Plane project, which won her an award.

The same authors have two other books. One is ADA TWIST, SCIENTIST and the other is IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT. They’re all in the same school, I believe.

ROSIE REVERE and ADA TWIST also have follow-up “project” books. Louisette is going to looooove hers!

For TJ, his grand obsession is puzzles (more on that later). For his books, I googled and then clicked on this list. Easy! Out of those, I chose:

 

A sleep time book (parents can fantasise that it makes bedtime easier), a singing book, and a book about kindness. As you may have guessed, TJ loves vehicles. Also dinosaurs and superheroes.

3. Pets

I dream of one day producing a suspiciously mobile box with air-holes in the lid and a puppy inside. One day. Not sure if it’s plausible. We’d need to have real grass in our backyard first, for one thing.

In the meantime, we recently bought some fish. They’re actually a terrible Christmas gift because the set up and cycling takes about a week (if it doesn’t, you’re likely to have mass extinction—ask me how I know), and it’s such a busy time that it’s hard to get good advice from your pet shop when you need it most. But it could work for a birthday, keeping in mind pets are a huge deal (and fish don’t cuddle, so it’s noticeable that Louisette quite likes the fish but TJ doesn’t care much).

Cats are awesome, of course. In my opinion, they’re easier than fish. You need to think about where they’ll poo (kitty litter? Your yard? The neighbour’s organic vegie patch?) and how much you care about native birds (something like 80% of cats kill at least one native bird and don’t tell their owners).

Pets are always super expensive and higher maintenance than expected. Mice and birds tend to stink. A five-year old can potentially do a small amount of pet-related jobs, but will never be reliable. You’re also taking a risk of experiencing death (although that’s technically an advantage, because it helps kids to understand death a bit better when they lose a human they really love).

4. Building kits.

We have loads of duplo and about five sets’ worth of wooden train set (which has a near-infinite number of possible permutations). But I wanted something a bit older for Louisette (and I fear the dreaded Underfoot Lego—Louisette has some lego, but she has to bring it out and put it away in one session at a time). Then I stumbled across this amazing thing:

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That’s right. It’s a building toy designed for six-year old girls THAT HAS A MOTOR. It’s made by a company called Roominate. This set has three permutations (helicopter, submarine and plane), and it also fits with their various other sets (which, disappointingly, do not seem to have a motor—although you can buy it separately).

I’m buying another set from the same range for Louisette’s birthday, so she can combine sets in unique ways. When I tried it out for myself, the motor was great but the pieces were a little hard to put together. Still, I like the curves and colours.

And it’s under $30. I really like that it has a person (particularly a girl, particularly a non-Caucasian girl—she is Hawaiian) and a rabbit. Not just because it encourages imaginative play, but because engineers SHOULD be thinking about what their machines are actually FOR. Are they big enough for people? Are they comfortable? Are they safe? Can she see out the window while she’s flying? Etc.

I also bought this Melissa & Doug building set for $40 on ebay:

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I look forward to seeing Louisette do weird and wonderful stuff with it. (Following instructions to build a specific shape is also a fantastic skill set that’s well worth developing.)

It’s a little silly to buy two different building sets for one Christmas, but here we are.

5. Speaking of personal obsessions… TJ and puzzles. He does puzzles every day, over and over again. He is very good at puzzles. Although he’s three (and a half), he is well above average when it comes to puzzles.

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Given that he’s just discovered (and begun obsessing over) WHERE’S WALLY? this was the obvious choice. It has 35 pieces, which is challenging but possible for TJ—and then he can amuse himself finding every single one of the items in the border. It’s $25 here.

That particular website gives free postage for non-bulky orders over $100 (I found them because they sell Roominate stuff). This was not a difficult task (although I have several very kind relatives who I tend to source gifts for, that they pay for and then give to my kids—I get to “buy” more presents, and my relatives save a bunch of time and brain effort).

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This is a simpler puzzle (also a floor puzzle, which is great for younger kids). It’s $27 and out of stock (apparently I bought the last one) here (same online store as the above). The genius thing about this is that TJ will learn his continents and several animals while doing this puzzle (over and over again). There are LOADS of puzzles that educate kids about various things (letters, numbers, maps, animals, even spelling).

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This is a 30-piece puzzle that is trickier than it looks. There are holes in the back that TJ will LOVE using to poke out the pieces (also solving a classic issue with new puzzles—pieces that don’t come out!) Every piece is a slightly different shape so it’s hopefully developing a slightly different part of TJ’s brain. It’s $14 here.

6. Trains. Wooden trains are seriously awesome (except for the crawling around on the ground part—we’re WAY past tables here). Pretty much all wooden sets will fit together in lots of different ways. Other than a $30 set that popped up at Aldi this year, they are super expensive. This tunnel is cool (the dinosaur on the top is a separate piece, which will be handy for attacking the trains below), but that one thing cost $20 (here), which is pretty standard.

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7. Active stuff. Any list of four gifts should include “Something Physical”. Some things are super expensive, like a trampoline or bike. Some not so much. This is very much billed as a Summer toy (it floats) but I thought it was a great toy for cold or rainy days when the kids need to do something silly and active… and inside. Even the rings are inflatable.

It’s $35 here. (I bought it when it was on sale.)

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8. Bath letters. Cheap, awesome, and educational. I guarantee Louisette will use these to teach TJ more of his letters. He can already count up to 12 and recognise ten or so numbers and letters—because he worships Louisette, and she loves teaching (which of course also helps her own knowledge). When wet, they stick to tiles. How fun is that!?!

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These were $4 on ebay, and I bet they’re a favourite on Christmas morning.

9. Tradition.

We have a special Christmas tradition in my family. Each year, I buy a small conifer to be our live Christmas tree. I take a picture with it and the children, so that as they grow they can compare their size to that harbinger of Christmas Day.

And every year, it dies. Before Christmas even comes.

I’m really not that good with… keeping things alive.

This year I found this. With postage, it was about $40 from ebay, which is quite a lot—but we can use it every year. There are loads of fun chocolate advent calendars out there, and loads of beautiful reusable ones (often with little drawers to put 24 small gifts in). I don’t want to make over-eating or buying-24-crappy-junk-gifts part of our tradition, so I was excited to find this. Each bauble has a different design, and is magnetised. Then there’s a star for Christmas Day. I think the kids will love it (so long as no one tells them about the chocolate variety), and I’m almost certain I can’t kill it. Although wooden toys DO burn really well…

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10. Something that definitely isn’t useful.

At the steampunk fair, flush with the knowledge that my pirate trilogy would soon be published, I saw someone with a half-goggle. Genius! And only a few bucks to get my own steampunk pirate patch on ebay.

So I guess this is more a present for me than for the kids. I can live with that. In my defence, Louisette specifically asked me for goggles after the fair.

11. Tech

A good friend of ours bought Louisette this talking (and programmable) toy dog for her first birthday. Since then we bought the other one for TJ (“from” Louisette). They’re called Scout and Violet.

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You can choose your child’s name from a list when you program it, and the dog will say things like, “I love you… Louise” (since “Louisette” is not common enough to be on the list). You can also choose volume, and switch it off at any time by squeezing the “off” foot. One of the paws plays “Bedtime music” which is a very useful feature.

These dogs have been a consistent favourite toy for a long time (although if it wasn’t for her computer Louisette would be over hers, I think).

Which brings us to… computers. For children.

I thought the entire concept of computers for children was madness—until I saw a four-year old drawing with her finger on an ipad screen. There was no mess, no stains on clothes, no eating crayons, no sharpening pencils, and no dropping fifty-seven textas on the floor and then wandering away. It blew my mind. Since then I’ve seen a bunch of fantastic, innovative games that make the world better. In my opinion, computer skills are vital, and it’s worthwhile to get kids started early. Plus, of course, when you need the kid to be quiet and still in a public place, a computer + earplugs is magic.

I did a bunch of research and then bought Louisette a LeapPad 3. That was back in 2014, so I think there are new models since then (and I imagine that the Leappad 3 will become obsolete at some point).

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It comes in either green or purply-pink (and so do the gel frames, as pictured). It costs somewhere between $100 and $200, plus $25ish for the gel frame (which protects it from breaking when it’s dropped).

The good: It’s designed for age 3 and up, so a lot of it is set out with pictures that make navigation easy for non-readers. (Louisette was often frustrated and not too fond of it for the first six months after she got it on her 3rd birthday; TJ took to it immediately when he received his on his own 3rd birthday.)

It has camera and video, which kids LOVE. (Caveat: Images can’t be taken off the computer, so it’s impossible to save or share them.)

It has a white-listed internet (which can be switched off and on via the parental settings), meaning that everything the kids can access (and there’s a lot) has been watched and approved in advance.

It has really excellent, educational games, that are tailored to the main user’s age and skill level. (But they usually cost around $20 each.) We’ve only bought a few games (and a book that “reads” to the kid as they touch the words) in almost three years. Plus, each new game (and switching the internet on) is a fantastic gift on its own.

When you have two LeapPads, the kids can actually message each other (using pre-written messages—so bullying is impossible—and a bunch of animated emoticons). It is hilarious to see my two kids with their heads together, screaming in laughter as they say, “I sent you a message!” “I got it!”

It has a lot of branded stuff—Disney and so on—which the kids adore.

The bad: It has an inbuilt game that is literally poker (spinning pictures which reward the user when they match, and can then be spent on features)

It also has an entire section that just advertises LeapPad games, and can’t be removed.

It doesn’t connect to other devices in any way (except, of course, LeapPad devices—it even has games featuring Scout and Violet).


 

Bonus points

Are you buying a gift for a child who’s not your own? You’d ideally check with the parents if you buy something on this list (I’m NOT aiming this at anyone specific, by the way! Please don’t think my kids dislike anything they’ve ever been given):

*Alive (including plants. Parents are very, very tired and even a plant can be too much to care for. The kid is definitely not going to look after it properly.)

*Larger than your head (or the kid’s head, if yours is unusually large). Kids have a lot of toys, and their parents probably don’t have enough places to put them all.

*Involving work for the parents eg craft or science projects.

*Messy, such as paint or play-dough (yes, play-dough is messy).

*Noisy or annoying (electric toys or certain high-pitched TV shows).

*Junk food. (And check for food intolerances if you’re bringing food that kids are likely to eat—food intolerances are on the rise, and some are deadly. Parents are not making this up for attention, I assure you. Peanuts in particular can kill, even if the allergic kid never directly touches the food item.)

If you buy soft toys, you’ll get a great reaction on the day—but by the age of 3 every child has at least twenty soft toys, and probably more like fifty. However, certain toys will be VERY beloved (especially those linked to a TV character the child already adores). So think carefully and talk to the parents. Kids are amazingly specific about their brands, even for intellectual properties they have never watched (such as Star Wars or Superheroes).

However!

Toys that get used up, such as textas (there are washable ones), coloured paper, colouring books, etc are good for homes that really don’t have much space.

When someone has a set of something—duplo, lego, building sets, train sets—you can buy a new set or part that goes with it. That’s brilliant for both kids and parents.

Pretty much everyone loves books (although probably not enormously long ones, which leads to trouble at bed time).

Kids and parents will both most likely adore you for taking the kids for some kind of outing.  Zoos, Questacon (if you’re in Canberra), and those trampoline places are all fun for everyone. Or you can simply take them to a playground they haven’t been to before (or even that they have). They will love you forever.

Also fantastic as gifts that don’t take up space—removable wall stickers. (If your friend lives in a rental, definitely query first; they may not be as removable as one hopes.) There are some gorgeous quirky designs here (I met the artist yesterday, so I’m a little excited).

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You do NOT need to spend a bundle on kids!

So here’s my Four-Gift Rule:

  1. Something to read.
  2. Something creative.
  3. Something educational.
  4. Something physical (fitness and/or coordination)
  5. Something silly.
  6. Something that interacts with an existing toy (lego is almost always a safe bet; duplo for younger kids).

Okay, that’s six. That’s what relatives are for. Or siblings. Or, if all else fails, an inability to accurately count to four. Or you can combine them in various ways.

It’s also vitally important (and easy) to get kids involved in the fun of giving gifts to others. My kids LOVE discussing, buying, wrapping, and giving presents to all their relatives, especially each other. They also love Christmas Shoeboxes and TEAR’s Really Useful Gift Shop (both of which are specifically Christian, which may or may not work for you), which are a nice tangible way of giving to others and being aware of the rest of the world.

(99% of charities benefit from cash more than physical gifts. Physical gifts are mainly useful for kids to get into the habit of giving, rather than for the charity itself. I really like TEAR’s Really Useful Gift Shop because it IS a cash gift, that the charity interprets in practical ways.)

PS This site did a very comprehensive review of nerf guns. Enjoy!

Shiver Me Timbers!

I said I had big news. This is it.

My middle grade (age 9-14ish) trilogy, all about fantastical pirates and monsters, has just been officially accepted for publication by Odyssey Books.

The first book is called THE MONSTER APPRENTICE, and will be launched in February 2018 (in time for Goulburn ComiCon).

It’s set in a fantasy world called “Rahana” which I invented seventeen years ago. It’s like Narnia, with pirates.

I wrote the first draft of THE MONSTER APPRENTICE in a New Zealand backpacker in Christchurch when I was twenty-two. I know exactly how old I was because I had just scraped into the upper age bracket for the Young Endeavour Sail Training Vessel (doing writerly research for STORMHUNTER).

I’m thirty-five now, but this is a pic of me at twenty-two on board the Young Endeavour, with New Zealand in the background. The character of Captain Sol in the story was inspired by the tales told by one of the navy staff on the boat (taken and altered with her permission).

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Oh, how I love research!

So it turns out Louisette’s pirate outfit last weekend was extremely appropriate.

People who’ve known me a long, LONG time will know that STORMHUNTER, the first book in my young adult magical pirate trilogy (also Rahana), was accepted for publication a while ago, but that particular publisher isn’t running any more. The story is here and here.

This is the closest I get to non-fictional piracy these days:

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Arrrr!

I really haven’t changed all that much after all.

I’ll start reading THE MONSTER APPRENTICE aloud to Louisette this evening. (Finally, a book of my own I can read to her!) Five year-olds are a tough crowd, so I expect I’ll be doing some more editing based on her reactions.

If you can’t wait until February, I have a definitely-not-suitable-for-children pirate game called SCARLET SAILS already on sale (and the beginning is free) here. Or you can search for “Scarlet Sails Hosted Games” on your favourite app store.

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Whatever & Ever Amen

My “Big Idea” post is now live on John Scalzi’s blog. I talked about Australia, and what it means to me to set my steampunk tales in my own beautiful, deadly, complicated country.

At Conflux, and then again today at the Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk & Victoriana Fair, I was talking to a lot of people about Australia, and what it means to be Australian (both good and bad). I like my “Big Idea” article more and more. It articulates things that have been hard to figure out in my own head.

Today was a glorious day; my third year as a stallholder at the top-notch Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk & Victoriana Fair. Every year is better than the one before, and the organisers and volunteers are truly excellent (smart, capable, efficient, cheerful, and exceptionally well-dressed).

I sold a large pile of books to various people, which is guaranteed to make me happy—but the most encouraging part was how many people had bought my book last year and come back for more. I knew going in that people would come and tell me if they didn’t like it… and not a single person did. It was all hugs and puppies (literally; there was some excellent dog cosplay this year—with live dogs).

One of the great things about this particular fair is that it really is for all ages. It’s a gorgeous picnic-by-the-river setting, the steam engine itself is fascinating (the kids came home begging for more info on how steam engines work, so we’ve been watching YouTube educational videos), and there’s face-painting, food, and a playground. Plus of course dress-ups. Apparently dress-ups are not just for grown-ups.

Seriously, the outfits at the Goulburn Fair are to die for. This lady is Angelina Tran:

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This year, like last year, Tara Moss herself came to wander about, talk to her many delirious fans, let people take photos of her every one-and-a-half steps, and to also enjoy the fair. Here are my hasty from-behind-my-stall-as-she-walked-past photos of her in her clockwork dress:

Last year I spoke to her for about three seconds and was so startled by her utter warmth it actually threw me. This year I knew what I was in for and so I… well, talked to her a little. She is a smart and fascinating woman (as well as being a model and rather excellent author). She is also someone who devotes a lot of her time to helping others. Not only is she a world-famous author, she’s one I happen to like to read (I avoid her crime but read her fantasy, since my own inclinations bend that way).

Gallery Serpentine was there this year and is also likely to return next year (if only because I’ll be calling them with my measurements in advance of the fair—they are the best quality corset makers in NSW, in my opinion).

Plus loads of music, dance, the crew of the Airship Sirius, a petting zoo, a teacup ride, and lots more that I missed because people kept buying my book!

The Waterworks engine is the one featured in my first book trailer (and it’ll appear in the third, too).

PS I have some big news which I’ll share soon. People on my mailing list will find out today. If you want to be on the mailing list, email fellissimo@hotmail.com with the subject line “MAILING LIST”.

Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk & Victoriana Fair

…is awesome. I’ll be there in a few hours. Ditto Tara Moss. And Gallery Serpentine (excellent corseteers). And dancers. And makers. And lots of people in simply glorious steampunk attire. Also the waterworks steam engine, which featured in my first book trailer.

The event page is here, and the regular page (still for the fair) is here. It’s on every year in mid-October and I have no intention of missing a year anytime soon.

I forgot to hold pics in reserve and I need to get ready asap, so here’s Ana to keep you amused.

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PS Why yes I shall be wearing the epic purple tutu today.

Welcome

One of the blogs I like is Whatever.Scalzi.com, the site of Big-Time Scifi Author & Generally Pretty Decent Human Being John Scalzi.

Feel free to go take a look at his blog and/or writing. I’ll wait. Oh, and go ahead and read the comments. His readers are smart and interesting and polite (thanks in large part to his Mallet of Loving Correction).

John likes cats, bacon, pictures of sunsets, and weirdo liberal ideas like “women are human” and “poor people aren’t poor because they’re bad”. He also lets other authors trample all over his blog a couple of times a week, talking about the “Big Idea” that turned into their latest novel. I get a lot of my book recommendations that way.

This week it will be my turn to talk about the Big Idea behind SILVER AND STONE (which, incidentally, is now on sale pretty much everywhere). I’m deliriously excited.

When my own Big Idea post goes live, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, hello and welcome to John Scalzi fans that have clicked through to my corner of the internet. Here is my cat, who I’m sure would be a very gracious hostess if she wasn’t a cat.

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I finished a chunk of writing and sent it off to editors today, so my world is full of smiles and sunshine. And how are you?

Conflux 13: Day 4

I have only the haziest recollections of today, the shortest day of the conference.

There was the dealer room (taken here in a quiet moment):

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There was food (this is the asparagus and avocado salad with optional chicken):

(That’s right. I ate salad, y’all.)

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There was much cheering, especially at the launch of the Never Never Book Box:

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I should probably mention that (a) The conference was buzzing with the book box love, and (b) I’m friends with the curator (she’s technically a work friend but we have even more than writingness in common). (c) The Never Never Book Box is closely linked to Odyssey through friendship, casual work, and most of all through the fact that both have an enduring love of Australian speculative fiction.

So that’s Conflux done until 2018. I had an absolute blast. I also broke a nail carrying a box of my own books. I feel like that’s some kind of metaphor, but it’s best not to examine it too closely.

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Conflux 13: Day 2

It’s 7:05pm as I begin writing, bleary-eyed and rocking a banquet-sized hunger (in related news, the official Conflux 13 banquet begins in twenty-five minutes).

First things first: after a panicked search and paying a suitable bribe to Miss Five, I have the GOOD tiara, and have been wearing it all day.

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I’m also wearing an epic purple tutu, and wings. It’s possible glitter and craft glue are involved.

(There are brass lamps and circular patterns in the foyer/bar/restaurant. It is shiny, and the perfect accidentally-steampunky venue for my launch of “Antipodean Queen 2: Silver and Stone” tomorrow at 2pm in the JFK room.)

Note to self: Take pictures. Promise to show them to people who read tomorrow’s blog.

I extremely enjoyed being on the “Beyond the Hunger Games: Best young adult books in the last twelve months” panel. My personal top picks (based on personal taste + genius):

  1. “Borderline” and “Phantom Pains” (Books 1 and 2 of the Arcadia Project) by Mishell Baker.
  2. “Goldenhand” by Garth Nix (Book 5 of the Old Kingdom…er… trilogy).
  3. “Songlines” by Carolyn Denman (Book 1 of the Sentinels of Eden series).
  4. “Salvage” by Martin Rodereda.
  5. “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo, which I am reading now (in preparation for the panel…oops).

I adored the panel on Steampunk Martial Arts by Laura E. Goodin, Madeleine D’Este (yes, her again), Aiki Flinthart, and Rik Lagarto. I could listen to any of those people on any topic, but that was just fantastic. I especially enjoyed Laura and Rik’s humour, and Aiki’s knowledge of unusual weapons (hampered only by my knowledge that everyone will know I’ve stolen the ideas from her), such as the flexible sword word as a belt.

I lied about being in the Dealer Room most of the day. There are so many Odyssey authors this year that I wandered off to other places so me and my tutu could stop sweeping over book displays and toppling posters.

Skirts. They’re dangerous.

Photos tomorrow.

Conflux 13: Day 1

Conflux is Canberra’s annual Speculative Fiction conference, run each year by members of the excellent and enormous writing group, the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG). It runs over the October long weekend, which this year and last year has included September. Because life is confusing.

This year for the first time the venue is the Vibe Airport Hotel. It’s very pretty inside and out, and surprisingly easy to get to (whether you’re coming from the airport—it’s about a ten-minute walk) or from Canberra. The best parking option is $10/day at Brindabella Business Park (again, a ten minute walk away). I haven’t checked that for myself since I park in the little 2-hour carpark with my disability permit. There’s also parking underneath the hotel, but I think it’s $23/day or guests only. (Please confirm your plans with someone less vague.)

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I really like Vibe’s layout. As soon as you walk in the door you’re in the bar (“Huzzah!” from the chorus), facing the Conflux rego desk, with the hotel reception to the left and all the conference rooms on the right. The restaurant is behind the bar, and the entire hotel foyer is filled with a delicious range and fluidity of chairs and couches and stools and tables.

One of the best things about Vibe is that the conference rooms in particular have excellent sound design (that sounds like a minor thing, but it’s not). The down side is that we don’t get free wifi. We do get free tea and coffee, and all the staff I’ve had contact with were very helpful. I’m pathetically jealous of the people that get to stay there (who I’m sure are pathetically jealous that I can go to my own family and bed to sleep).

Friday is a work day, but we still managed a highly respectable crowd, which bodes very well indeed for the rest of the conference.

This is probably about the point in proceedings that I should mention my flaws as a conference blogger: I almost never go to panels, unless I’m speaking. What I love is hanging out in the dealer room, emerging periodically to eat and drink and hang out some more in the food area, then going to hang out in the dealer room some more.

I could tell you that the panel I was on with Dion Perry, Madeleine D’Este, and Kathryn Gossow was pretty cool, but what would I know? (Also, if you like my books I can pretty much guarantee you’ll like Madeleine’s. Evangeline and the Alchemist is the first one, and I think it’s free all weekend. It’s Aussie steampunk set in Melbourne with a inventive but frequently idiotic heroine.)

So how’s the dealer room? It is nice. The tables include music (Meri Amber, who somewhat corners the market on nerdy singing); the launching-at-Conflux Never Never Book Box subscription series; a range of hats and other gear; and of course many many delicious books.

Speaking of which, guess what I beheld for the first time today??

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That’s right. My second published novel. I approved the final edits oh…. about a week ago. So I was a teensy bit worried I’d have no books to sell at the launch on Sunday.

But it’s here, and it looks beautiful, and I think it probably even has my words inside.

(The severed hands belong to my children, who spent much of the day hiding under the Odyssey Books table.)

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Is this a face that makes you want to buy books?

Tell me your answers below!

The countdown is on

The second book in the Antipodean Queen trilogy is at the printer and will be ready for the book launch this Sunday (almost definitely). You can pre-order the hard copies through the publisher here, and it’ll be on Amazon, Kobo, B&N, etc etc in a couple of weeks. You can use the ISBN to order it through your local bookshop in case it’s not classy enough to order the book itself.

The launch is at 2pm at Canberra’s Vibe Airport Hotel. It’s part of Conflux, Canberra’s annual speculative fiction conference, but the launch itself is free. So is hanging out in the Vibe bar and/or restaurant after the launch.

There’s no need to RSVP, but the facebook event page is here.

It’ll be short and sweet, but there will still be time for costume prizes (anything steampunk, historical, Aussie, crocodile-like, or fairyish will do).

Here’s the cover, at last!

Silver and Stone cover.jpg

And click here to watch the trailer. It’s a little inspiring, I think.

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.

 

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. (This is also why she calls a character “Jack” at the end. The idea is that “Jack” would have become 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.