Are ya chicken?

And so we come to the “actual meals” part of my daughter’s class recipe book.

First, we have Sweet Chilli Chicken Skewers.

IMG_5039

 

6 chicken tenderloins, sliced in half lengthwise

12 bamboo skewers, soaked

2 T sweet chilli sauce

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 T grated ginger (I got mine from a jar)

2 tsp olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed (jar)

1/2 tsp ground coriander

IMG_5049.JPG

  1. Thread chicken strips onto bamboo skewers.
  2. Mix everything else and marinade the chicken in it.
  3. Bake in moderate oven for half an hour, keeping it covered with aluminium foil for the first twenty minutes, and turning once. (The original recipe said to char-grill or BBQ for 3-4 minutes each side.)

(I cooked some frozen chips to go with them.)

 

IMG_5050.JPG

I wasn’t super enthusiastic about this—I’m against anything with chilli, as a rule—but the sauce was simply exquisite.

The kids enjoyed squeezing and sucking on the lemon:

TJ also enjoyed the sauce—as did I!

It was  a rather nice dinner. TJ was enthusiastic (he likes novelty, and is going through a pro-unusual food phase, although he still likes being able to clearly see exactly what each item is—the sauce was thin enough that it fundamentally didn’t register as “other”). Louisette. . . not so much. We made a rule at the beginning of this adventure that she had to have at least one bite of everything we made.

 

Yum Factor: 4 (an excellent meal)

Health: 4 (loses points for only being a meat recipe, rather than a balanced meal)

Easy: 4 (no real skill required, but slicing the chicken and putting it on skewers is more work than I usually do for a meal)

Will make again? Probably not as skewers (unless I’m bein’ fancy-like), but that sauce was great and I expect I’ll make it again at some point.

Excuse my French

Regular readers will know I’m a sucker for punishment.

Allow me to rephrase.

It really helps my depression to have a win in life, and taking on something a little bit special/difficult/unusual really works for me (while also making all my near relatives—except my Mum, who also loves a good project, and my Dad, who is used to her—try to talk me out of it*).

In unrelated news, Chris and I watch the Tour de France each year.

One of the sexiest things about Chris is that his reaction to virtually any sport is to immediately and pointedly fall asleep (he’ll literally change the channel/mute if sports news comes on). The Tour is the one exception; something he inherited from his father.

For about three weeks each Winter, our household grinds to a halt as the Tour is on from 8:30pm until 2:00am most nights.

It has a bewildering, hypnotic beauty (once one becomes desensitised to all the lycra). There are castles, and coastlines, weirdo spectators, epic art, plenty of heroes and villains, complicated and ever-changing team strategies, sprinklings of French, and amazing feats of endurance.

Aaaand then there’s Gabriel Gaté. He’s one of those chefs that just adores his job. Each night he films a short segment meeting local restauranteurs* and/or farmers, and cooks a dish (the recipe is written out in full online) inspired by the region.

The first night was last Saturday, so he cooked a “perfect coastal dish”: Prawn, Potato, and Hazelnut Salad. You can see what he actually did here.

This is what *I* did:

Ingredients:

Boiled cubed baby potatoes

Boiled cubed sweet potato

Chopped hard-boiled eggs

Diced cucumber

Finely chopped cashews

15ish cooked and ready-to-eat prawns, defrosted overnight (did you think I’d cook them myself??) and chopped (except for several saved for garnishing)

Some walnut halves, for garnish

Sprinkling of chopped chives, for garnish

 

50mL olive oil

1/2 tsp lemon myrtle/salt mixture

1/2 tsp mustard

1/2 tsp sweet chilli sauce

 

I mixed everything from the first section of the above list (except the garnishes), put it into fancy glasses, drizzled the dressing (ie the last four ingredients, mixed) over the top, then garnished it, then served it.

IMG_5128

This is what the dressing looks like. We actually didn’t need that much.

IMG_5129

The great thing about salads is that it’s easy to adjust them for different people. TJ’s salad contains carrots and cheese instead of prawns (I also chucked in some water chestnuts, because why not?)

Louisette had… sausages.

IMG_5135

Now let’s analyse the work of an international French chef using the same system I designed for 6 year-old home cooks:

Yum Factor: 4 (an excellent meal. Loses point for having no chocolate, and both kids refusing to eat prawns)

Health: 5 (vegetables and everything!)

Easy: 3 (no real skill required, but it took me a while to coordinate all the moving parts; 3 garnishes is just silly so next time I’ll probably just whack a prawn on top, sprinkle chives, and call it a 4. 4.5 because it can be prepped in advance).

Will make again? I was thinking ‘no’ during dinner (although it WAS nice to eat—and good to be able to do a  bit and then sit down, and then do the next bit, then rest again, etc) but I think that’s mostly because of the process of adjusting the recipe as I went along. So, in conclusion, yes I do think I’ll make it again (with the changes to make it a 4.5 on the easy scale). I reckon I’ll save it until we have (adult) guests coming over, so I can be all fancy-like.

*Chris evaluates each project on its own merits, and on how exhausted I’m likely to be afterwards. That determines his emotional reaction along a sliding scale from “enthusiastic” to “terrified”.

*Is there any word that’s more FRENCH than that? HOW MANY VOWELS DO YOU PEOPLE NEED?

Amytriptyline

One of my meds is amytriptyline. I take it to prevent migraines.

I’ve always had migraines with my period (not that I knew they were migraines until relatively recently) and when I was pregnant for the second time I had pregnancy migraines. It took a long time to get them diagnosed because they were mostly expressed through an aura that was pretty much 24/7. So basically my vision was blurry, and I had a lot of headaches. Along with a lot of other pregnancy awfulness.

IMG_4926

Pictured: The up side of that pregnancy.

The migraines continued after pregnancy, still every day, still mostly aura (but plenty of pain, too—and if I was in pain it usually went for three days straight) until I finally saw a neurologist. They mentioned that, among other things, I had some non-permanent brain damage (as I suspected, at that point – I’d had migraines every day for over two and a half years and definitely felt like something was wrong with my brain that wasn’t “just” mental illness or absent-mindedness or baby brain). The first med we tried didn’t work, and amytriptyline was only an option if I was NOT taking zoloft so I went through a really nasty period of getting off zoloft (for anxiety/depression) so I could try amytriptyline.

Fortunately, it worked—and at a relatively low dose, too. Amytriptyline is also sometimes prescribed for anxiety, but sadly it didn’t help me (so I now take pristiq for the mental stuff).

The early days on amytriptyline were super trippy. For the first week I’d get up in the morning too doped-up to walk straight. It got less silly after a bit, and I started taking the pills with dinner instead of when I went to bed.

Nowadays I still get aura relatively often—generally towards the end of a long day—and the occasional migraine (the aura is a warning; I take painkillers and chocolate and try to avoid physical and mental stress in order to head off the pain before it settles in).

Solving my migraines was a really big step toward functionality, but amytriptyline has some pretty intense side effects.

Firstly, I need to be careful of other meds containing serotonin (so I don’t take too much, get serotonin syndrome, and maybe die).

Secondly, it dries out my eyes. I now use eye drops every single day, but my eyes still water a whole bunch. I can’t wear eye makeup, and more importantly my eyes are in danger of going kablooey due to diabetes.

Thirdly, I sleep. A lot. I typically go to sleep around 11pm and get up at 7am (for those of you who don’t like counting, that’s eight hours each night) and also nap for around ten hours every week. Some nights I go to bed as early as 7pm, and sleep a full ten or twelve hours in a row. Then quite often have a nap the next afternoon. I used to be a night owl, but now I’m usually pretty wrecked in the evenings.

Since I started taking amytriptyline, three things happened:

My writing output dropped, and has never recovered. I still write more than most humans, though.

I can eat chocolate after dinner. This I like.

TJ sleeps less than I do, which SUCKS because I get almost no Chris-and-me-watching-TV down time.

It’s always super easy to get to sleep. Except every so often, generally when (like tonight) I take the tablet much later than usual, when I feel wildly awake. When that happens, I get up and watch TV or read a book until I feel tired enough to try again.

And that’s why I wrote this blog entry. At 2am.

One of the to-do lists I wrote recently was a medical one. There’s a lot of stuff on that list. I’m currently on a waiting list to see the neurologist again (I think the waiting list is about a year) and talk about other pill options. I don’t mind waiting because I know things might get worse before they get better. My mental state is fragile at best.

It’s clear I still have issues with migraines. It’s also clear that my brain damage hasn’t healed in the two years since I started taking amytriptyline (suggesting that the low-level migraines I’m still getting may be preventing my healing).

There is a very simple test for brain damage: I try to walk using ‘fairy steps’ – with each step, I touch the heel of the new foot to the toe of the previous foot. I’m now able to do it, but only if I use my arms to help me balance. If I keep my hands clasped together, I fall over. The physical lack of balance is nice and measurable, but I don’t know the effect this brain damage has on my writing or my ability to socialise. I’ve always been bad with names, but I’m really REALLY bad now. I also switch nouns (eg “Put the carrots in the laundry[fridge] please.”) and presumably my conversation isn’t as sparkling as it could be.

I used to be quite fond of my brain. Mental illness really doesn’t help with that, but brain damage is a whole new kettle of brains. Fish. Fish brains.

You know what I mean.

IMG_5055

 

Isaac Biscuits

TJ insists that I’m wrong to call these “Anzac Biscuits”. Well, what would I know?

IMG_5027

 

Ingredients:

 

1 c rolled oats

1 c plain flour

2/3 c brown sugar

2/3 c desiccated coconut

130g butter

2 T golden syrup

1/2 tsp bicarbonate soda

Method:

  1. Mix oats, flour, sugar, and coconut in a bowl.
  2. Combine butter and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir for 2 minutes or until butter is melted. Stir in bicarb soda (fun).
  3. Mix butter mixture with dry ingredients.
  4. Line a tray with baking paper.
  5. Roll mixture into balls and flatten slightly.
  6. 10-12 minutes at 140 degrees.

Having only eaten store bought Anzac biscuits (as far as she remembers), these were a revelation for Louisette. They were gone in 24 hours (mostly because of me rather than Lizzie).

Yum Factor: 4 (they’d be a 5 if I was a biscuit type of person, or if they contained chocolate)

Health: 3 (relatively healthy by snack standards, but definitely a treat)

Easy: 4 (hard to screw up. . . although I technically did screw them up by just mixing everything instead of doing the syrup properly)

Will make again? I reckon so. They’re quite similar to peanut butter balls (in terms of being oat-based and a relatively healthy treat that’s simple to make and has some nicely basic pantry ingredients), but with less protein and chocolate (sad but useful because I can’t eat too much peanut butter; I’m intolerant of nuts).

Plus I’m pretty sure that adding the bicarb to the syrup makes it fizz up in a fun way (and presumably makes the final biscuits even nicer too), and I’m annoyed to have missed that.

I reckon we’ll make these next time we run out of choc chips.

Bicarb is cool.

 

Today is Saturday. The kids woke up at 6am as usual and instead of turning the TV on (the usual morning routine, while Chris and I sleep) they decided to do our world puzzle together. Wearing beanies.

(For the sake of honestly I should mention that there were intervals of screaming rage before they settled down into this charming scene. Then there was some more screaming, which is why I was awake to take these pics.)

So, how’s the cooking project going? This is only the fourth official blog entry, but we’re actually up to Number 8 (of 18). The next FIVE are rather tricky for various reasons, so it’ll be interesting to see how that goes (I’ve deliberately delayed the actual blog entries so they’re spaced out nicely).

One week of school holidays is DONE and OVER and no one has been hospitalised. So that’s good. The grandparents are visiting us today, which of course is fantastic. Nana is entertaining both kids, and Poppy and Chris are fixing various things around the house. They just walked through carrying the innards of our sofa bed.

Grandma’s Spaghetti

The Year 1 teacher who organised Louisette’s new recipe book wanted FAMILY recipes (with a strong hint of ‘multicultural, please’) and this one is a ripper.

My children are dead-set against anything to do with tomatoes (except of course, for tomato sauce, which bears little resemblance to the fruit*) so I knew that this was unlikely to be accepted with grace. However, any recipe that contains only three ingredients is a winner in my book.

  1. 500g spaghetti
  2. Tin condensed tomato soup
  3. Grated cheese

Cook the spaghetti, drain it, mix it with soup and sprinkle it with cheese.

Aaaand. . . you’re done!

 

TJ liked it (although I know from experience he’d probably refuse it next time.)

Yum Factor: 3 (I like grated cheese)

Health: 3 (passable as a meal, but is mostly made of starch and salt)

Easy: 5

Will make again? Probably not, because Louisette won’t eat it; I require more meat in my meals; and putting any red liquid near my 4 year-old is asking for trouble (especially when there’s also long, whippy, drippy noodles involved).

*     *     *

In other news, today I filled in my annual stall holder form for the Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk & Victoriana Fair. (Here‘s the facebook page for last year, and I blogged about it here, with pics.)

The fair (now called the Steampunk Victoriana Fair) has been getting much bigger every year, and this year they’ve gotten big enough to have “Stall Holder APPLICATION” forms rather than just forms.

What I mean to say is, they’re bringing in STANDARDS.

They now request details about the stall, and a picture or photo of what the stall will look like. If you’re connected to me on facebook (especially on either my ‘general‘ page or my ‘Antipodean Queen‘ page), you probably see such things about once a month, for example:

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 1.08.12 PM

 

But since I’ve been stallholding at the Steampunk & Victoriana Fair for the last three years (before I had any books out, in fact!), and have enjoyed all my interactions with the divine (and divinely well-organised) Julianne, I decided to do a drawing instead. This drawing:

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 12.51.47 PM

I feel there’s a raw honesty to my work that goes beyond the merely picturesque. I also feel that I probably won’t be a contributing visual artist to the “Murder in the Mail” and “Magic in the Mail” stories anytime soon.

 

*Or is it a vegetable? Argue away in the comments.

Moose?

My daughter had heard of moose, but not mousse. . . so when her dad and I discussed making chocolate mousse she asked, “Will it come alive when it’s finished?”

(Being scientifically-minded, she knows perfectly well that mammals have live young. . . but she also knows there are a lot of weird and wonderful ways to make life happen.)

Speaking of Louisette, she and I were talking today about what she wants to be when she grows up.

She told me that she wants to be a scientist, spy (a new kind who doesn’t spy on people), vet, doctor, nurse, police officer, firefighter, artist, writer and mum. “I have decided that I WILL be a Mum and I WILL marry a man.”

[I have told her that she can’t marry a family member, and if she marries a girl it’s slightly trickier to have kids.]

I said, “The most important thing about marriage is picking the right person. If you pick, for example, a bully—that would be terrible every day.”

She said, “I already have some ideas.”

Of course I wanted details, so she told me (names redacted, obviously):

Kid1, “because he likes science just like me.”

Kid2, “because his name starts with ‘L’ just like me.”

Kid3, “because he is kind.”

Kid4, “because he is funny and has all the best stories.”

Kid5, “because he is very very very very kind.”

I was very impressed with her logic, and with her choices (I know all of these boys; some quite well). I was especially happy that none of her choices have ever been mean to her (I do encourage her to be friends with those that tease her, within reason), and that only one is Caucasian.

We talked about how far away marriage is, and how marrying a good friend is definitely the way to go.

So that was fun.

Chocolate Mousse was always going to be a winner. (You can google your own recipe; I’ve typed enough today.) Vast amounts of chocolate and cream, with sugar added?

 

Yum Factor: 5 (so rich it’s deadly)

Health: -1000 stars

Easy: 4 (gotta use a dry bowl to whip egg white. . . which I didn’t, and it was still fabulous)… but it’s not easy to tell the kids they can’t eat it until the next day.

Will make again? Probably not, but maybe at Christmas (probably with Bailey’s added). It’s WAY too much cream for my system to handle, so I’d attempt it with lactose free cream (after consulting my also-low-lactose Mum about whether lactose free cream can whip). It’s gluten free (like my mum), so actually that’s helpful. A LOT easier than cake, and yummier too. So… probably yes, now I think of it.

Holiday Recipes

My daughter is getting three weeks of holidays between Terms 2 and 3. She’s a pretty great kid, but that still fills me with blinding terror.

A few weeks ago, her Year 1 teacher asked the kids for family recipes. Those recipes were typed, bound, and printed (with illustrations by the kids). There are about 15 recipes altogether, and I decided that Louisette and I would cook them ALL these holidays.

Yes, THAT will make everything less stressful! Come along and watch as I inevitably regret all the life choices I ever made to end up on this path to horror and pain!

We started with. . . us. Louisette’s recipe was originally from a low-FODMAP recipe book, and it’s a fantastic snack—high in protein, easy to transport (after it’s been cooled, it stays non-sticky even when left out), and still yummy!

I love the magic of SCIENCE inherent in this recipe; taking a gooey mess and adding elements that dry it out to a perfect texture.

IMG_5009.jpg

Peanut Butter Balls

3/4 c peanut butter (cashew butter is good but stickier, so you gotta add more cinnamon and/or coconut if you cashew it up)

2 T maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 c oats

1/4 c coconut

2 T dark choc chips

Method:

  1. Mix everything in a bowl.
  2. Using your hands, roll into balls (this gets very messy and sticky).
  3. Place in the fridge until set.

IMG_5011.JPG

We make this recipe all the time (and of course we always eat one before they set anyways). It’s great for diabetics and low-FODMAP people (low salicylates, not so much). The above pic is the result of a double portion.

Yum Factor: 5 (aka “yes, it contains chocolate”)

Health: 4 (not exactly a salad, but a million times better than just chocolate)

Easy: 3 (heavy to stir but mixes easily; annoying to put into balls)

Will make again? Uh. . . yes. About three times a week until the kids move out. This is one of the five foods they eat willingly AND it counts as a treat (useful, since our household is a treat-based economy).

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”.

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 10.43.36 PM

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 8.18.21 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.45.33 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.47.21 PM

This just amused me. More than once.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.48.17 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.49.40 PM

I adore making readers cry.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.51.46 PM

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

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.52.47 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.53.07 PMScreen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.53.24 PM

Yay, more crying readers. Love it.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.53.52 PM

Poor, tormented reader.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.55.02 PM

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.56.56 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.57.34 PM

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

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.59.24 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.04.51 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.06.02 PM

That’s startlingly deep.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.06.24 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.21.40 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.22.02 PM

I agree 🙂 Phill and I both have novels published.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.23.25 PM

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).

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.24.03 PM

“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.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.24.17 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.24.36 PM

Aw!

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.26.54 PM

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!

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.27.55 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.29.03 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.29.28 PM

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

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.32.04 PM

*love*

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.33.23 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.35.33 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.35.52 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.36.17 PM

I am also human *wink*.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.37.10 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 8.12.32 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 8.17.08 PM

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.

The Woman Tax

Last night I crashed my car, because I am a woman.
 
On Tuesday last week another creative Australian woman, comedian Eurydice Dickson, was killed in a park as she walked home from a gig. Like me, she sometimes takes slight risks in order to live her life and have the career she has.
 
Last night, I went to the University of Canberra for a writing session, taking 6 year-old Louisette with me because I don’t have any other options. The UC Writers’ Group has been so helpful I named them in Silver and Stone as one of the reasons my second steampunk book was finished on time. These writing sessions are a lifeline. They also take place at an awkward time of day when my kids are with me, and it’s dark.
 
As always, Louisette was slow and silly getting into the car, and I was quietly frightened—hiding my fear from her, as always. (She’s six. She doesn’t yet know to be frightened, and I don’t want to teach her—yet. I will teach her soon. All mothers teach their daughters to be afraid. We have to.)
 
Like most universities, UC has underlit places, and I was uncomfortably aware that I needed to do a 3-point turn in order to get out of a small carpark that I chose because it’s near the door. My 6 year-old daughter and I were in danger (probably very little, but perhaps not), and I had to get us out as quickly as possible.
 
So, expecting Louisette to scream, “My seatbelt isn’t buckled yet!” at any second, I backed up. I hit a gate hard enough to tear our back bumper.
 
Because I’m a woman.
 
Would people be holding a candlelit vigil for Louisette and I next week if I hadn’t driven away quickly? Almost certainly not. But maybe. Because I’m a woman, and she’s just a girl.
 
This is how women live every day. Should I have stayed home? Well, no. The majority of murdered women are killed in their home.
 
There is no safe place. I live with this fear every day.
——————————-
I arrived home from crashing the car and found a speeding ticket for $279. The ticket shows that I was driving 88km/hr in an 80km/hr zone—so not speeding MUCH, but certainly speeding.
It was dated 9 June 2018.
That was the day I ran two parties for my son’s 4th birthday (the entry directly before this one is about the cake). Why two parties?
Well, read on. . .
Chris, TJ, my brother, and my nephew all have their birthdays within about a week. Last year and the year before I’ve organised ‘group’ birthday parties at inside playgrounds. Inside playgrounds cost money (bad, but makes them a special occasion, and I tell everyone to pay for the playground instead of buying gifts). June is Winter, so outside isn’t really an option.
Why do I organise the birthday? Simple. In the above list of birthday boys, there are two obvious women: the wives. Since my brother’s wife is only related to the rest of us by marriage, the birthday duties fall on me. (The other obvious option is the matriarch aka my mother, but she lives in Gundagai so she’s already making a 5-hour round trip just to show up.)
Could a boy organise a family event? Lol, no!* When a man and a woman get married, the man no longer has to remember his own mother’s birthday—that’s what a wife is for! The woman, of course, is now responsible for two extended families instead of one.
I don’t make the rules.
So this year my extended family didn’t like the idea of going to an inside playground for a group party, so I needed to please both TJ and the numerous relatives somehow.
Hence, two parties in one day.
The party in the morning was kid-oriented, and the party in the evening was adult-oriented (we all put in $20 and got Chinese…. I kept it as simple as humanly possible… with ice cream and leftover dino cake for dessert).
I asked my sister to come to the kid party and help me with the cake. I don’t see her often so it was a great opportunity for our kids to play together while we could chat and be silly over icing and sprinkles.
Nope. She was busy.
Mum said she’d come to the kid party. Great!
So here’s what happened on the day:
Mum decided at the last minute that making sure her DOG wasn’t lonely was more important than showing up, and she was 45 minutes late. Thanks mum! (No really, thanks—if she hadn’t show up when she did there wouldn’t be a video of the cake, which was what I really really wanted.)
The (single) mother of TJ’s best friend (I literally checked the date with her before booking the party) was deathly ill so Chris and I needed to pick up her two kids.
So I think you can see why I was going a whole 8km above the speed limit that day.
But I did all the things. I made an epic cake. I made sure TJ’s best friend was there. I gave TJ an awesome day/week and also arranged an awesome day (totally different day) for Chris’ birthday. I stayed on budget and gave all my extended family a fabulous get-together in the evening—making sure it started early so my parents could drive back to Gundagai in enough time to get a good night’s sleep. (Not a single guest arrived on time, either. My family can be pretty rude.)
Because I’m a woman. When it comes to family events, and homework, and school stuff, and family health, and remembering important things, and household cleanliness. . . the buck stops here, with the woman.*
What a shame the value of a woman’s buck is only seventy-three cents due to the institutionalised sexism of gender-based pay discrepancies.
But that’s another story.
*Obviously there are exceptions.

How to Make an Epic Dino Cake

My son turned four this week, and asked for a dinosaur cake. Once I had the revelation that (a) I don’t like cake, so (b) Why bother making it? but (c) I do like creating peculiar things, and (d) The only thing they’ll eat is a horrifying amount of icing anyway… It all fell into place.

Or at least, it fell.

TJ is a winter baby (which means parties must be inside), and his father, grandfather, uncle, and oldest cousin all have birthdays within about a week. So I arranged to have two parties today: one for TJ’s friends (at an inside playground with a dino room), and one for his numerous relations (at my house).

That meant I could make a single giant cake and use leftovers for party #2.

There are two basic schools of thought for dinosaur cakes: One big dinosaur, or a scene with several dinosaurs. In my opinion, the one big dino cake takes more skill. Sure, there are dino-shaped cake tins out there, but you still need to be able to have smooth icing. Not gonna happen.

I was clever enough to assemble the cake at the location of the party, rather than attempting to carry it safely in a vehicle (and to take my own knives and large containers in which to bring home the leftovers). I was also clever enough to order the base from Woolworths. I ordered a basic slab cake, two layers, no icing. It was $20. I took three layers off part of it, and moved them to the top at the back. Voila! A cliff face ready for a waterfall.

IMG_0622

At Woolies I’d previously bought various items: edible glue (which I couldn’t figure out how to open, so I hacked it open with a knife; used it to stick cupcake topper sheets around the sides), writing icing (used for the blue lines in the water), Natural Confectionary dinosaurs, and a full roll of “ready rolled icing” suitable for a 22cm round cake, which I sliced into shapes with a butter knife for the water.

IMG_0623

I’d made a double portion of chocolate buttercream icing at home (it needs to either be made or re-mixed on the day or the butter hardens and it’s useless), which had a pleasantly different texture to my “water”. I spread it in a hurry, and quite thick, so it just covered the top. I was using my hands and laughing maniacally at this stage, rather aware of my deadline as one of the kids had to leave early and there was another party using the room at 12, etc etc. The buttercream icing had enough stickiness to draw up some of the cake, and it also struggled a bit to hold onto the “cliff”. But it worked well enough. As you can see, smooth flat icing is not my forte (not that I was particularly trying this time).

This icing was easy to shove about, and it was great for standing up little dinosaurs later.

 

IMG_0624

I had prepared some desiccated coconut ages earlier with food dye, intending it to be green grass but it was too blue so I chucked it in the water.

The trees didn’t really work (but who cares? They’re made of Tim Tams, mint leaves, and lolly bananas), although leaning them against the cliff helped (the edible glue didn’t—using icing might have worked a little).

The mountains and volcanoes are “chocolate” waffle cones. I’ll go into more detail about the volcanoes in a bit…

The flowers were a pack of edible flowers I impulse bought at Woolies when I was examining sundry icing/sprinkle products for inspiration.

IMG_0625

 

I also used:

-Green and yellow sprinkles for grass/sand. (If your child is very scientific, this is not the cake for them… grass is a relatively recent plant.)

-Edible white balls from the same pack to be dino eggs (quite a stretch).

-Dino candles (they are parading across the water at the top of the waterfall. I presume this is how they became extinct. That, and being on fire). Ebay.

-Lots of fondant dinosaurs from ebay (actually, I was pretty happy with them despite how fragile they are. They mostly survived the post and last a long while (weeks), and taste better than anything rice paper-ish).

-Dino sprinkles around the edge of the water (SO not necessary… AND mixed with other sprinkles… but TJ was rather taken with the idea of dino sprinkles).

-Strawberry topping carefully applied around the edges of the volcanoes for lava (it was important that none of the topping got inside the volcanoes).

-Mini plastic dinos (tube of 20 or so for $4 from Kmart and I dropped some in each party bag afterwards), and two wind-up dinos ($3 each at Kmart).

-Dino cupcake toppers for the sides of the cake (stuck on with “edible glue” from Woolies), and Tim Tams.

As you can see, the aesthetic I was going for was: I bought a whole lotta vaguely cake-related stuff and I aim to use it ALL.

IMG_0628

 

So there it is in all its glory.

Now let’s talk volcanoes.

I dug two holes in the cake, and inserted small empty (clean) coke bottles (I experimented with other shapes and the mini soft drink bottle worked best). Then I broke a hole in the pointy end of two waffle cones and placed them over the top.

I was careful to make the bottle hole and cone hole match up as well as possible. You can see one of the bottles in the top of this pic:

IMG_0627

The cones did shatter a fair bit, but they fundamentally worked.

Bring a SEALED bottle of DIET red (the colour doesn’t matter; a lot of people use Coke because the dark colour is more dramatic but obviously red was better here).

At the last moment, fill both bottles. Then drop two MINT MENTOS into each one.

NB: The red diet drink I used uses stevia (considered a more ‘natural’ sweetener than the old chemical ones that have a number and/or a multisyllabic name). A LESS natural drink is likely to cause a greater explosion.

 

My daughter and her friend held the wind-up dinosaurs and let them go when I said, “Now!” and dropped the mentos into the volcanoes.

I lit the candles before pouring the diet soft drink into the bottles.

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

 

Magic in the Mail

The (first?) “Murder in the Mail” Kickstarter was successful, raising thousands of dollars. You can read more about that story here.

As you can probably guess from the title, this led to further shenanigans.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 4.18.54 PM

There are currently TWO “Magic in the Mail” stories in development:

Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae

This is a tale of two missing magical creatures; a phoenix and a water dragon.

Phoenixes and dragons hate one another, so foul play seems likely. Their concerned parents team up with some magic-sensitive mortals to follow the missing “children” and perhaps save their lives. The missing ones have left a trail of art behind them (because an encounter with a magical creature inspires wonderful art).

It is posted in three parcels, and includes artistic objects which you’re going to love!

It is also 100% G-rated.

$50 plus postage (or $40 if you buy the boxed set in person at a conference/fair) through the store right here.

The first mail-out will be June **2019** but you can make preorders now.

3.Magic3.AlanLamWITHwriting.png

This beautiful anuragnathus (yes it’s a real dinosaur) by Alan Lam is part of the story—and yes, the Chinese character is both a clue and a red herring.

What does a dinosaur have to do with a story of magical runaways?

You’ll have to buy the story to find out.

Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire (mini story)

This is a steampunk fantasy tale set in the same world of magical metals as all my other steampunk, including my novels (in fact it takes place at the same time as part of Iron Lights and the game Attack of the Clockwork Army).

A Perfectly Ordinary (she says) shop-keeper named Xiong joins a fledgling rebellion headed up by the famous Emmeline Muchamore. It’s a tale of secrets, hope, aeronauts, lighthouses, an alternate reality Charles Dickens, and fruit ices for all.

$30 plus postage (in a single pack because I’m trying to keep it affordable) from my store here. Available now!

The first mail-out is. . . within 6 months of the first order. Probably more or less instantly. This story is a much smaller operation than the others. I’ll be feeling my way as I go.

A stripped-down version will be included with my third steampunk fantasy novel (available in August 2018), with just two black and white pieces of art included. The full version has a build-your-own hot air balloon, handmade jewellery and a steampunk song by the Littmus Steampunk Band!

Here’s one of the pieces of art. This is a print of an oil painting by Graham Gercken, who takes special orders.

2.Graham.jpg

Since people tend to feel strongly about the genres of both crime and fantasy, “Magic in the Mail” has its own forum, here.

 

All my stories are available through my store here.

Mega Lolly & Chocolate Review

It’s been a while since I reviewed something heinously unhealthy on this blog, so when I saw a whole bunch of new and exciting permutations of sugar, cocoa, and chemicals at Woolies today I bought them all.

Let’s begin, as every good beginning does, with chocolate.

Lindt Orange Intense

I’m not usually a fan of dark chocolate, but this has almond slivers and orange bits in it which just works. It’s also beautifully thin, with a lovely crack when you break it. It’s also ten squares adding up to 100g, which pleases me immensely.

It’s particularly good at a certain time of the month, when I suddenly want more chocolate.

Not to be confused with their orange creme variety, which I don’t like.

Lindt Fruit Sensation: Raspberry & Cranberry

The fruity centres are quite sickly sweet, which is necessary to hold their own against the dark shell. I don’t think I’ll buy them again, but I may change my mind. I’m a sucker for a round chocolate, especially one that can be eaten without getting sticky fingers, so this wins points for shape and surface texture.

If you like dark chocolate, I think this will suit you. They also have another flavour (orange maybe? I can’t remember).

having said that, I think the candied fruit innards won’t appeal much to adults (who tend to be the ones eating dark chocolate) so I think this is a short-term product only.

IMG_4890.JPG

Cadbury Marvellous Creations: Clinkers, Raspberry Chips, Marshmallow

Love it, especially the clinkers. There’s a great range of texture and flavour without being excessively sticky (I’m looking at you, Cadbury Boost Block) or taking away too much important space in the chocolate. The eccentric shape is cute (and, I admit, fun to consume) but an obvious ploy to make the block run out faster.

Excuse me. I’m going to go eat some more right now.

Cadbury Boost Block

I’m a big fan of the Boost bar, and this is. . . not as good as that. It has a little bit of caramel, and plain crunchy things (similar to rice bubbles; no flavour to speak of but a crunch) in a differently-textured chocolate segment.

Yes, it’s fun to eat and a bit different. I don’t expect it to be around forever.

Cadbury Picnic Block

Like the Boost block, this is a variation of a popular (and superior) bar. The white stuff is pleasant but nothing to do with the original bar. I salute the creators for including a good amount of peanuts.

It’s a good way to have peanuts with your chocolate, but inferior to chocolate-coated peanuts, Darrell Lea brand peanut brittle balls/fingers (chocolate coated also; the pinnacle of chocolate/peanut relations and unlikely to ever be outdone in this world) and the Picnic bar itself.

Once again, this is a product that is fun to eat and a bit different for a limited time.

Cadbury Crispy Mint

I adore mint chocolate (I had mint M&Ms at my wedding reception) so I was initially disappointed by this block having those plain crunch things in it—I suspected they were there mainly to fill in space and save money as a result.

In the end, I grew to really like this bar. It has its own flavour (mint, obviously) and a distinct texture with both mini M&Ms (who doesn’t love tiny bits of crunchy coloured candy?) and the plain crunchy bits working together nicely.

Natural Confectionary Carnival Mix

The shapes are not as fun as dinosaurs (my favourite) or snakes (Chris’ favourite) but they are smaller, which might be good when bribing kids with a specific number of lollies. Also, the Cherry Cola and Watermelon flavours use the same shape—which is doubly unfortunate since it makes them difficult to distinguish.

Apparently these are “all new flavours”: Lemonade Float, Strawberries & Cream, Cherry Cola, Watermelon, Apple & Raspberry, Peach Pie.

I found the Lemonade and Cola flavours a bit syrupy; the watermelon, apple raspberry and peach pie were all probably a little too subtle, giving them a jelly-like effect (especially the watermelon; the peach pie also had a white section which offset the low flavour pretty well). The fruit-based flavours were clearly a minor alteration on existing flavours (and the existing flavours are better).

Conclusion: They’re an adequate addition to the range but not one that deserves to stick around.

NB: People on low-FODMAP or low-salicylate diets should be careful with Natural Confectionary, since they purposefully use fruits for flavouring, which is excellent except when one is intolerant of that fruit.

Natural Confectionary Sour Soda Pops

The soda pops are all bottle shapes, so some are quite difficult to distinguish. The flavours are Blackcurrant Soda, Raspberry Lemonade, Orange Fizz, Cola, Lemon Squash, and Lime Pop.

Fundamentally, these are sour lollies (a shocking conclusion, I know). I’m generally not a big fan of sour lollies (the best, in my opinion, are Sour Patch Kids, not least because the sourness goes away as you eat the lolly). They taste exactly as you’d expect a high-quality sour gummy lolly sprinkled with sugar to taste: not too sour, so as not to put off mainstream consumers, and with a nice texture.

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.

 

Avengers: Infinity War (spoilers for those who wanna know in advance)

 

I’m really serious about this spoiler warning, okay?

I’m gonna tell you who dies.

Something unusual happened immediately after the final credits: people were talking. There was no relief, no certainty—and a whole lot that needs talking about.

In a minute I’ll do my own emotional/talky response-analysis thing.

This post is basically just a summary of spoilers. Seriously.

If that’s something you seriously want to know in advance (presumably in order to emotionally prepare yourself), then read on. . .

 


The main “teams” of Infinity War

*Guardians of the Galaxy + Thor. This is the most comedic meeting. Thor and Gamora matter the most here.

*Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Dr Strange (Iron Man and Dr Strange have a lot in common, specifically being up themselves).

*Wakanda: The Wakandans (including Bucky) join up with Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, Falcon, Vision, and Scarlet Witch for the major show-down of the film, which takes place in Wakanda. There is a nice moment when three very different women fight together (Scarlet Witch, Okoye, and Black Widow).

Unsurprisingly, the Soul Stone shows up during the film.

Who do I care about most in this film?

Thor. Gamora. Spider-Man. Wakanda.

Who don’t I care about that the film thinks I should?

Vision. Paul Bettany manages to bring a smidgeon of British charm but I still find his relationship with Scarlet Witch (very young and lonely) icky.

Who didn’t even show up, like not at all?

Hawkeye and Ant Man. They’re both men with children to look after (and also both under house arrest), but writing-wise they got left out because they’re just not in the top tier of heroes. Sorry guys. I would have liked to see a tiny glimpse of the two of you in the climax.

Who do I think we’ll never see again?

Heimdall. Loki. Gamora. Vision.

How do I feel about that?

I am annoyed that Marvel killed off two awesome people of colour and their greatest ongoing villain… but I think it was the right thing to do writing-wise. Heimdall has saved Thor enough times, and Loki’s moral dubiousness is no longer surprising. Gamora is far too competent to stick around Star-Lord, and far too soft-hearted/self-assured to go off on her own (unless she had her own film, which would be fantastic but doesn’t seem likely). And good riddance to Vision, who is not interesting enough to keep around. Their deaths were necessarily fast due to a movie packed with heroes, but they still hurt. More so as I think about them afterwards.

What do I think will happen in the next movie?

It’s perfectly clear that Doctor Strange has this whole Thanos thing sorted. He specifically looks into the future and sees only one path that doesn’t suck. Then, as he dies, he says, “This was the only way.” Therefore, everything he did was necessary to save the day.

He also specifically states that he would let Iron Man and Spider-Man die in order to protect the Time Stone. Then, when Thanos threatens Iron Man, he immediately gives him the Time Stone. Dr Strange clearly wants Thanos to have it, and I don’t think it’s coincidence that it’s the time stone. Anything can be fixed with the power to rewind.

In the post-credits scene, Nick Fury realises what is happening and clearly has a plan of some kind already. He grabs a device and pushes buttons. . . then drops it as he dies. But one presumes it’s linked to Doctor Strange’s plan.

At his moment of triumph, Thanos sees a vision of Gamora as a child, who he genuinely cared for—and killed in order to fill up his gauntlet. That gives him a possible motive to reverse time and save her. (It also gives her the best chance of all the pre-climax deaths to come back.)

A LOT of people die in the climax. Then, suddenly, the film ends.

 

 

I’ve Seen Infinity War. Here’s What You Want to Know Going In (spoiler free)

Overwhelmed.

Yes, that is a good word.

Stuff happened. The Marvel universe will never be the same.

It’s going to be a long wait until the next Avengers film (a year, I believe).

It’s such a very Marvel movie. Funny, tragic, epic, spectacular.

It IS rushed. It has to be. The elegance of character introductions & relationships is extremely impressive from a writing perspective. It’s theoretically possible to come into this movie as one’s first comic book movie—it would, fundamentally, hold together—but the movie relies on the pre-existing love the audience has for these characters while also giving them speedy intros that pack a lot into a little bit of time.

The trailers lied at least twice.

The stakes are real.

Thanos isn’t nearly as boring as I expected.

The movie is fast-moving and complicated, so it’s worth a quick recap of the last EIGHTEEN movies.

There are many spoilers for past movies here, and a suspicious mind can extrapolate spoilers for Infinity War too. So if you’re trying to stay away from spoilers, stop here. But if you want reminders of who’s who (or you’ve missed some movies along the way), this is the useful bit. I’ll colour in the bits related to the Six Infinity Stones (the Mind Stone looks orange rather than yellow due to legibility concerns), and capitalise the most important characters.

You’re probably already aware that the plot of Infinity War is that Large Purple Humanoid Thanos has an infinity gauntlet designed to let him harness the power of six infinity stones, each of which has specific powers. He believes that the universe will be much improved by instantly killing half its population (no more overpopulation, etc). When he has all six infinity stones, he can kill half the universe by snapping his fingers. That is his goal.

Here’s a useful graphic that has been copied so many times I’m afraid I don’t know where it originally comes from. Please let me know in the comments!

Screen Shot 2018-04-25 at 7.10.09 PM.png

I’ll completely leave out plots, villains, problems etc that are fundamentally taken care of along the way. I’ll put an asterisk next to movies that are truly excellent.

Phase 1:

*IRON MAN Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is a billionaire genius playboy who begins a relationship with his assistant, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). He is a human who invents a very cool flying iron suit with many useful (military) features. It’s originally invented to save his life (he got some shrapnel in his heart), but gets more portable and deadly over time (in other movies). He is arrogant, charming, and later becomes deathly afraid of Really Bad Stuff Happening (which often causes him to make seriously bad choices). At the end of this movie, he publicly announces his private identity. At the end of the credits, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson with an eye patch) reveals the existence of SHIELD, a superhero group protecting the earth.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK Dr Bruce Banner (Edward Norton, now Mark Ruffalo) is also a genius, who due to SCIENCE sometimes turns into The Incredible Hulk, a giant green monster that smashes things fairly indiscriminately. Over time, he gains control over his ability to transform—but it’s still not 100%. Hulk is stronger than any other Avenger, and tends to get into pissing contests with Thor (but gets on fairly well with Tony Stark because they’re both super genius inventors heavily into SCIENCE).

Tony Stark approaches him in a post-credits scene, asking him to join “a team” (aka SHIELD).

Iron Man 2 Pepper Potts wants Tony Stark to stop nearly getting killed. This is an ongoing source of tension. His heart problem is repaired, but/and he makes more and more suits. Black Widow (aka Natasha Romanoff, played by Scarlet Johansson) is introduced here, as one of the members of SHIELD. She is human with no powers, but extreme combat ability.

THOR aka the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth), has quite a family. His father is Odin, ruler of the world of Asgard, who is worshipped as a Norse God on Earth. His younger brother is LOKI, God of Mischief, who it turns out is actually adopted from a different species. Thor’s hammer is super important and useful. Loki can shapeshift, and is Marvel’s most interesting villain for many years to come (partly because he sometimes does good things, and partly because he’s played by Tom Hiddleston). Thor is super muscly and masculine, and can be quite simplistic about good and evil and hitting things. But he grows up a fair bit here. Idris Elba plays Heimdell, a minor but powerful character who controls and guards the bridge into and out of Asgard.

Thor and SHIELD briefly cross paths. In the end Thor is trapped on Asgard due to sacrificing the rainbow bridge that connects it to the rest of the universe.

The Tesseract aka Space Stone, appears in a post-credits scene. Loki is pursuing it.

*CAPTAIN AMERICA: The First Avenger Steve Rogers is a wimp with a heart of gold who is transformed into a super soldier during World War 2. He consistently remains the superhero best known for his integrity, and has a distinctive shield made of vibranium (which, unbeknownst to all at this stage, is from the African nation of Wakanda) with a star on it. His best friend is Bucky, who is killed as they fight Nazis including the Red Skull (whose head is a… well, a red skull, and who is doing Bad Things with the power of the Tesseract/Space Stone, which ends up with Tony Stark. Steve Rogers is also recruited by SHIELD).

*The Avengers This brings together Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, and Captain America, as well as Hawkeye (he shoots arrows really well, gets mind controlled in this film, and that’s pretty much it; played by Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow. Loki is the main problem (wants to rule Earth) and is ultimately defeated and imprisoned. There is lots of bickering but ultimately the Avengers work as a team and save the world. The Tesseract (glowy blue cube with the SPACE Infinity Stone inside) ends up safely (for now) in Asgard. The Chitauri Sceptre Loki has been using gets moved around to various places and is (much) later broken open, revealing the Mind Stone inside, which is (later still) used to make VISION.

Phase 2:

Iron Man 3 Tony Stark has much shenanigans and then promises Pepper Potts to be normal from now on. She is physically altered by villains in this movie, which helps her survive.

Thor: The Dark World Due to an accident, the Reality Stone is released from safekeeping, causing problems. In the end, it is given to The Collector, a random guy in space, for safekeeping on the planet of Knowhere. Thor is no longer stranded on Asgard, but able to travel again. Loki is apparently killed (but is actually shape-shifted into Odin, and now ruling Asgard).

+Captain America: The Winter Soldier Steve Rogers’ best friend (and only remaining person who lived in the same age as he did) is being mind controlled. He has also not aged, and is a super soldier too. Towards the end of the film, there are signs he may be breaking free of his mind power. In the meantime, SHIELD has been taken over from within by evil super-company HYDRA, and has to be utterly dismantled. The Falcon (Sam Wilson; a guy with giant mechanical wings played by Anthony Mackie) is introduced here.

*Guardians of the Galaxy Star-Lord (QUILL; Chris Pratt) steals what turns out to be the Power Infinity Stone (which can do all sorts of trippy things), and gets into a whole lot of trouble while partnering with a rag-tag bunch of criminals (GAMORA, played by a green Zoe Saldana, the adopted daughter of THANOS, who has committed horrific crimes and wants to kill Thanos “more than anyone”), Drax (Big tattooed muscly alien man played by Dave Bautista, who wants to kill Thanos for destroying half his planet including his wife and child—that’s what Thanos does), Rocket (a bloodthirsty modified raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper with motion capture by Sean Gunn) and Groot (a tree voiced by Vin Diesel). Ultimately they put the Power Stone in the Nova Corps Vault on the planet Xandar, and it’s safe. Quill is the only human, kidnapped as a child in the 80s with nothing but the clothes on his back and a rocking 80s mix tape.

Avengers: Age of Ultron Scarlet Witch (who is extremely powerful, created by SCIENCE + the Mind Stone and able to alter minds and reality dramatically) and her brother (who dies) manipulate Tony Stark’s fears, causing him to create Ultron, a villain who does villain-y things. In the end they defeat Ultron and create Vision, who is a computer-y person powered by the Mind Stone in his forehead and played by Paul Bettany. Vision is good—so good he can lift Thor’s hammer (which only the worthy can do). Scarlet Witch joins the good guys, but they’re afraid of her (except for Vision).

+Ant-Man Ant-Man is a loser trying to hold down a job so he can pay child support and still see his daughter. Due to SCIENCE he gets the ability to turn super tiny (but with an even stronger punch).

Phase 3

Avengers: Civil War The usual bickering turns to actual fighting, particularly between Iron Man and Captain America (mostly over Bucky, who is by no means sane). Iron Man has been keeping tabs on a super-powered teen called Peter Parker (SPIDER-MAN, who is extremely agile, strong, and can shoot webs from his wrists) who helps a bit. The team is disbanded in various directions (The Hulk is blasted into space, sacrificing himself).

+Doctor Strange DOCTOR STRANGE (Benedict Cumberpatch) is a brilliant surgeon who’s badly injured in a car accident and goes to find peace under the instructions of The Ancient One. She recruits him into a group that protects reality using Mystic Arts, including the ability to make portals anywhere and alter physical reality. He can alter time as well using the Eye of Agamemnon, which is also the Time Infinity Stone (worn by Doctor Strange on a fancy necklace from now on). The librarian/sidekick Wong is similarly skilled in the Mystic Arts.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 Star-Lord, Gamora, and the others reluctantly join up with Thanos’s other assassin-daughter, Nebula (Karen Gillan; blue and metallic), and an empathetic alien called Mantis (Pom Klementieff).

*Spider-Man: Homecoming Iron Man is (sort of) mentoring Peter Parker, who is extremely enthusiastic and in need of some training. Spider-Man matures somewhat over the film (quickly surpassing his own mentor’s maturity). He is very innocent, and a deeply decent human being who is very careful not to kill the baddie.

*Thor: Ragnarok Odin is dying, and Doctor Strange is concerned when Loki (one of several interplanetary threats he’s monitoring) lands on Earth looking for him, but is mollified that Thor and Loki are working together against their long-buried half sister Hela, God of War. They ultimately defeat her, but she has already destroyed Thor’s hammer. He maintains his powers of lightning because he is, after all, a god. Thor, Loki, and Heimdall rescue some of Asgard’s people (better than none at all), destroying their homeland in the process.

*BLACK PANTHER King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is deciding what kind of king to be. He rules Wakanda, an African nation that has hidden itself, its incredible riches (including a lot of vibranium), and its uniquely advanced technology (much of it invented by his brilliant younger sister, SHURI, played by Letitia Wright) from the world. Ultimately he decides to open up Wakanda to the world. His special forces are the Dora Milaje, shaven-headed warriors led by Okoye (Danai Gurira).

There is a really excellent video summary at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97OJjlpbuBc

Groups that already know each other and are connected at the beginning of Infinity War:

*Thor, Loki, Heimdall, and The Hulk are still travelling in space together after destroying Asgard.

*Iron Man is engaged to Pepper Potts and still trying to train/protect Spider-Man.

*Scarlet Witch and Vision are in a relationship and in hiding.

*Captain America (bearded now) is also in hiding since “The Avengers: Civil War”, and connected to Black Widow and the Falcon.

*Ant-Man and Hawkeye are both under house arrest, since they didn’t want to be fugitives. They each have a family with children that they care for.

*Bucky is fully healed with a shiny new arm, living in Wakanda under the care of Shuri and King T’Challa the Black Panther.

*The Guardians of the Galaxy (Star-Lord, Gamora, etc) are in space.

Current Locations of the Infinity Stones:

*Loki stole the Space Stone (aka Tesseract) from Asgard before fleeing into space with Thor, Hulk, Heimdall, and the Asgardian refugees. A long time ago, Thanos sent him to get it.

*Vision has the Mind Stone in his forehead. It is an important part of who he is.

*A moderately bad individual called The Collector (planet Knowhere) has the Reality Stone.

*The Power Stone (aka Orb) is on planet Xandar, in a vault.

*The Time Stone is inside the Eye of Agamemnon, hanging around Doctor Strange’s neck and giving him power over time.

*The Soul Stone is a mystery.

Which movies should you see/re-watch before seeing “Infinity War” (in order of importance):

*Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a great stand-alone movie (funny, charming, great soundtrack, and surprisingly emotionally compelling), has a lot of cast members in “Infinity War”, deals directly with one of the infinity stones & with Thanos, and includes some details of outer space that are relevant to “Infinity War”.

*Black Panther. A brilliant stand-alone movie (in so, so many ways), which once again has a lot of important “Infinity War” characters, and features Wakanda, which is important in “Infinity War”.

*Thor or Thor: Ragnarok or Avengers #1, or all of the above. All of them show the relationship between Thor and Loki. Ragnarok includes the Hulk, and Avengers shows how the whole primary group functions. Thor is the most independent movie, given that it’s all about intro’ing Thor properly.

*Spider-Man: Homecoming because Spidey is going to be more and more important, and because it shows his relationship with Tony Stark (which reveals a great deal about both of them). Also because Tom Holland has overtaken Captain America as the Avenger with the greatest heart. This is another fantastic stand-alone movie.

Nimmitabel Steampunk Fair

You may not have heard of this, on account of 2018 being the first year it’s running.

The tiny town of Nimmitabel (pop 320) is about to host its first Steampunk Fair.
5-6 May.
1.5 hours south-ish from Canberra.
OF COURSE I will be there.
(Assuming this weekend’s Supanova Melbourne doesn’t kill me first.)
Nimmitabel.Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 9.56.56 AM

Murder for Kick(starter)

Last Saturday at midnight, my first ever Kickstarter Campaign ended, raising funds via pre-orders (and special rewards) for “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday”.

Mistakes were made.

One of my main mistakes was that, after looking at the Australia Post web site, I thought an A4 envelope thinner than 2cm would cost $1.

Turns out they cost $2.

Ouch.

Another was that I sent out my review copies too late. Only one actually arrived in time to get a review during the campaign (and that was mainly because I literally delivered it to her door here in Canberra). You can read that review here, and listen to her interview here.

Other review copies went elsewhere in Australia, to New Zealand, the US, and Canada. Last I’ve heard, NONE of them have been fully received yet. I do know that the first envelope took almost a month to reach Canada.

IMG_4675

(Review copies ready to get their postage on – John Scalzi is on top because his address is public.)

So, as I mentioned, the Kickstarter is over now.

I mentioned “Murder in the Mail” on a few forums when the Kickstarter began (int-fiction and choiceofgames.com, which I’m fond of), and there was a clear bump in US sales as a result, and a little bit of conversation in those forums.

But asking $40 for a thing that doesn’t technically exist yet is a lot! Even though this is dramatically cheaper than anything else similar.

IMG_4599

(That pic is review copies getting put together)

I also didn’t realise in my planning that Kickstarter’s maximum time for a campaign is 60 days. I’d been planning a three-month campaign (which included Melbourne Supanova, as well as giving the writing team more time to get certain bits and pieces done in time for those review copies). So that was… unhelpful.

I also named an extra-high amount because… oh, I can’t even remember properly. I need to sell around 100 copies to break even, but there are so many tiny expenses (seed envelopes, special pens, etc) that I would have to audit myself to figure out the actual cost (as opposed to the estimated cost).

That’s not quite true. I’ve been careful to record everything over about $2, and I do know how much I’ve spent. I’ve just ordered a bunch of stuff printed in batches of 100, so after that invoice comes in I’ll know what the actual total cost per 100 turned out to be (approximately; I bought larger quantities of some of the items because it was cheaper that way). Plus I know Kickstarter can take up to 10% (depending on… stuff I don’t understand enough to calculate) so I figured 100 x $40 = $4000; eh, let’s make it $5000. It all seemed so shiny and easy back then. NB: I don’t have to sell 100 copies during the Kickstarter to break even. Didn’t remember that at the time.

IMG_4776

(Louisette and I making up hand-written packets of sunflowers that we harvested from our own garden. If the reader plants them in late Spring/early Summer, I think they’ll actually grow.)

Ultimately (and very much saved by the loving support of extremely trusting parents and in-laws) the Kickstarter was a success.

I am VERY relieved, as you can imagine! Kickstarter has a rather exciting rule that if you’re not fully funded by the end of the campaign period, you get nothing. All the pledges already made simply vanish into thin air!

So that didn’t happen, but my parents & in-laws are unlikely to save the day so dramatically in future.

So…..

There WILL be a new story. This one will be fantasy, called “Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae”. It will have 3 parcels instead of 8, and although it’ll have a Kickstarter Campaign the goal will be much smaller.

I’ll also be selling special boxes/folders of “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” at all the conferences I attend this year.

IMG_4773

(An array of pretty containers for the story.)

Specifically, these:

Melbourne Supanova (April) in the Artist Alley stall “Aussie Spec Fic”
Nimmitabel Steampunk Fair (May)
Sydney Supanova (June) in the Artist Alley stall “Publisher Obscura”
GammaCon Canberra (August) in Artist Alley
Canberra Launch (probably as part of the Canberra Writers’ Festival) August
Conflux Canberra (September-October)
Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk and Victoriana Fair (October)

There will be limited quantities of the packaged version, so email me in advance if you’d like to reserve one.

You can of course also give me money pretty much whenever (at conferences or online) to get a copy posted to you over the normal 8 week period (or in a single parcel if you absolutely insist).

There will be one “lot” posted out in June-July, another in September-October, and then… more mail-outs sometime after that 🙂

“Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” will be officially launched in August 2018, and will be available to buy until September 2019.

“Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae” won’t be finished until 2019, although if you specifically want to order THAT story then just make it clear when you email me (and/or email MagicintheMailStories@gmail.com). Keeping in mind it MIGHT be cheaper than $40. I’ll probably have a price in a couple of months. I already have some REALLY COOL STUFF AND ART AND THINGS.

The simplest way to get the story is to email me at MurderintheMailStories@gmail.com with your ADDRESS, EMAIL (in case things go wrong), and PAYMENT DETAILS (eg “I just deposited the full payment into your account/PayPal, under the name “Bob Flibbertigibbet”).

Make sure to label your payments with something unique to you (your name and/or the name of the recipient). Labelling things “Murder in the Mail” will NOT be helpful.

PayPal: MurderintheMailStories@gmail.com

Bank details:
Commonwealth Bank (Australia)
06 2692
3320 8197

And here’s a spot the difference game. If you’re very familiar with the Odyssey list, you’ll be able to tell which author was recruited at the last minute from these two pictures.

felicityroom-fini

 

4.MurderintheMail

Many many thanks go to Shauna O’Meara, the artist, for altering that pic more than once after it was finished. And to A Certain Writer for enthusiastically jumping on board when one of the other writers had to drop out.

Both will most definitely be involved in the next story!

(PS I don’t think anyone actually will solve this picture. There’s a LOT of stuff in it.)