Two children look up to the clouds on a summers day. They gasp in surprise as a face appears to be looking down on them! Is it real? It certainly seems so… How can we tell? Thus begins our second visit with J.R. Becker and illustrator Max Rambaldi’s precocious and curious kids, Annabelle and Aiden in “Oh the Things We Believed” , a children’s book on critical thinking. Like last years “The Story of Life” (reviewed by our own Deek,) this Kickstarter project follows Annabelle and Aiden as they explore a complicated subject with the guidance of a helpful animal companion, this time the colorful and befeathered dinosaur Skeptisaurus.
The book uses the common pareidolia of finding shapes in clouds to explore how our senses and feelings can fool us. One thing I really appreciated is how Becker acknowledges the fallibility of our feelings whilst still respecting them. There isn’t any faux Vulcan hyperskepticism here, no dismissal of a young kids feelings but rather an encouragement to understand those feelings. It’s really interesting emotional intelligence work for a book aimed at preschoolers.
“Before accepting your guess just based on how you feel,
lets admit we just don’t know and discover if it’s real. ”
“But discovery takes work and time!
Why search when we just could
accept the answers we made up
like feelings say we should?”
“Feelings are important
they add beauty to our life.
But for telling us what’s real outside
they can cause lots of strife.”
And from there Skeptisaurus lays out the simple evolutionary basis for why we evolved to feel and see things that might not be there. With helpful sidebars and wonderful illustrations the book explains how our ancestors who were hyper aware of strange noises were less likely to become someone else’s dinner, how babies who recognized faces smiled back at their parents more often and thus thrived, and how our ancient pre-scientific forbears might have mistook comets for omens of doom or diseases for demonic possession. It even explains the myth of why storks bring babies!
Aiden is resistant at first, which is understandable. As the author shows, we are almost literally hardwired for a certain amount of magical thinking, and magical thinking can be especially comforting to youngsters. There is a scary bit of the story where Aiden retreats from the new knowledge he is encountering and literally falls into the “Gap of Knowledge” and has to be rescued by learning about how science lights the way to true understanding of the world around us.
“And Aiden saw how mystery
can drive us to explore,
and search beyond our guesses that
woo us with thin allure.
“I no longer need to fear
monsters under my bed,
or learning what is real and what
is only in my head”
“Real learning changes the world
Feelings often fool.
Real answers may not be magic,
but they’re always magical.
As someone who has been reading to little ones for 12 years now, I really enjoyed this book. It’s wonderfully illustrated, packed with quotes and information, yet easy enough for a kid to follow. It really feels like something you could read to a toddler and then again to a seven or eight year old and find both experiences rewarding. If you found Carl Sagan’s A Demon Haunted World helpful to learning skepticism as an adult, I think you can consider Oh, the Things We Believed to be an excellent guide to skepticism for kids. My only minor quibble with this book is that Annabelle doesn’t appear to do much more than watch Aiden as he blunders through his journey to reason. I hope she get’s to take a more active role in their next adventure.
You can find Annabelle and Aiden’s stories at Amazon or follow them on Facebook, I can’t wait to see where they go next.
P.S. I also wanted to bring forward Deek’s excellent advice for reading to young children…
Some suggestions for reading with very young children
- Read it in chunks. While the book works as a long narrative, it also does nicely as single stanzas or pages that are friendlier to toddler attention spans.
- Allow for tangents. Instead of reading it straight through, pause for discussion and exploration when the child’s attention is caught by an idea, word, or image.
- Take time to enjoy the illustrations with your child. Encourage them to “read” the pictures, and talk about what they see.
- Hunt for words and numbers in the pictures. The slips of facts tucked into the illustrations are fun places for pre-readers to search for letters they know and even piece together words.
by Monica Valentinelli
For my series about game writing, I’ve touched upon the similarities and differences between working on video games, tabletop RPGs, and novels. This interview with twice-nominated BAFTA writer Lucien Soulban, who works for Ubisoft Montreal, dives into all three. Lucien started writing in the stone age of games, lending his talents to tabletop RPGs and properties like Vampire: The Masquerade and Dungeons & Dragons. Additionally, he’s also written novels for Warhammer 40K and Dragonlance, as well as short stories for various horror anthologies that include Blood Lite 1, 2, & 3.
In the last decade, Lucien’s portfolio has expanded to include video games such as: Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Rainbow Six: Vegas, Far Cry 3, Far Cry 3 – Blood Dragon, Far Cry 4, and Watch Dogs 2 as writer and lead writer. He is currently working on an as-yet-to-be named project at Ubisoft Montreal.
After reading my interview with Lucien Soulban, if you’d like to learn more about him you can find out more by visiting his brand new Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/lsoulban
1.) What was your first writing assignment? Can you tell us about that experience?
I never expected to be a writer, to be honest. I wrote for myself and English was my best subject in school, but I had my eyes set on art and drawing. (While I wasn’t great, I was getting better slowly.) When I started writing articles for my friend’s APA (Amateur Press Association), he thought I had chops and asked me to edit roleplaying books for a company called Ianus Publications back in 1993. From there, I was given a shot at writing for the Night’s Edge RPG, a system that mixed the supernatural with Cyberpunk.
It was terrifying and exciting, because I wasn’t just writing a story: I was adding puzzle pieces to a much larger picture. It dovetailed nicely into my art, where everything I drew had a story and universe behind it. Unfortunately, the art fell to the wayside after that, which I’m not terribly proud of, and I focused more on writing. I had more finesse with words than I did with the pencil.
2.) You’ve also done some development work in RPGs. What was the first game you developed? Was that more challenging than writing for the game?
I started helping develop games for Guardians Of Order (the ‘Of’ is capitalized in their name, oddly enough), an RPG company that initially specialized in anime. At the time, their new lines included Hong Kong Action Theatre and Heaven & Earth. I inherited the development of those titles, as I did for White Wolf’s Kindred of the East, both times following the roads on a map laid out by someone else. It wasn’t until White Wolf hired me to create a new game based on Wraith: The Oblivion that I fully developed a limited-series RPG called Orpheus.
I learned a lot from that process, including the fact that I had much to learn as an editor. I wasn’t very good as one, because I made the rookie mistake of tailoring the edits to my own preferences rather than allowing the writer their artistic choices. It was a revealing process, though, because it helped cement my own checklist of do’s and don’ts, and I think helped sharpen my skills as a writer and creator. I came to realize that originality didn’t come from the novelty of the idea itself, but from the development and refining of those ideas.
3.) Do you feel that game developers need to be good writers, too? Why or why not?
I think game developers, both in tabletop and in videogames, don’t necessarily need to be good writers, but they do have to be good storytellers. At the very least, an emphasis on storytelling creates a common language. Developers need to understand how a story comes together, and how to work in partnership with the writer, to craft something cohesive and meaningful. Leave the language to the writer; that’s their fingerprint on the project. Let the writer interject their take on the material, because they’ll see new ways of representing the subject matter in a way that best works with their voice.
Conversely, writers need to trust the developers in keeping them from wandering off the path, and in trimming the fat when necessary. That’s not to say there isn’t this level of cooperation already with certain companies, or that game developers haven’t come from writing backgrounds. In fact, it helps when a developer is a writer because they understand what goes into crafting something. But is it a must? I think storytelling and critical thinking is a must for developers first and foremost.
4.) What are some of the pros/cons between working on a corebook vs. a gaming supplement?
I’ll stick with the pros because I’m a fan of both, and while corebooks seem like where the glory lies, I think my strongest work has been in the gaming supplements I wrote for Mutants & Masterminds. A corebook is something of a discovery, charting paths through a new land and trying to predict where people want to settle. You have to figure out why people will want to spend years playing your game and what you can offer them to bring and keep them together, all while creating versatility and a variety of experiences. You’re creating mythology and structure and, with a corebook, the sky’s the limit so long as you still make it accessible to your audience. I love corebooks, because it’s the flagship title of a game and the intoxicating make-it or break-it thrill of writing.
With a gaming supplement, all that heavy lifting is already done and you’re adding the finer details of the world. You go from a bird’s eye view of the terrain right down into the dirt. You can take the parts of a game that interest you and flesh them out. You’re a part of the collective who loves the world enough to add your touch while respecting the source material. Sourcebooks that add to a world have less riding on their shoulders, but still have the impulse to get it right. In both cases, though, it’s all about providing the players and game masters with enough hooks to keep them inspired.
5.) In addition to working on games, you’ve also written short stories and novels. How has working on games helped (or hindered) your fiction?
That’s an interesting question. Writing for games tends to require certain technical skills, not the least of which is a gift for straightforward exposition. That’s the one that can bite you on the ass the most. When swapping to fiction, your brain is in a different gear. It tries to make facts entertaining and to inform the reader. You can’t be coy in game writing, not unless you want niche appeal. Fictionalizing the text can obscure vital information or make weeding through the pages highly frustrating. When switching over to fiction, you can’t present the text in that way. You want to engage the reader, and not provide data like they’re speaking points. So sometimes I find myself rewriting fiction because I’m worried it reads like gaming text. The advantage, though, is that you tend to think of stories as part of a larger mythology, and each story ends up becoming a chapter in a much wider cosmology. You tend to think about how the world is structured; sometimes that can be good and sometimes it can bog you down in unnecessary detail.
6.) Are you still writing for tabletop RPGs? If so, can you talk about your latest project?
I do on occasion, mostly for Onyx Path Publishing or Green Ronin’s Mutants & Masterminds RPG. I am working on something on my own, a horror RPG, and so far it’s taking me in interesting directions. It started off as a horror novel but, after I wrote it, I realized it wasn’t living up to the potential of the idea itself. So I started working on the bible for it, and 14K words later I have the beginning of a universe with plenty of promise and plenty more to do. I might even have a nibble of interest from an unexpected corner, so that’s always good. Regardless, it’s a passion project.
7.) Your latest release for Ubisoft was Watch Dogs 2. Can you walk us through your role on the project?
I was the Senior Writer on the project with a team of seven writers in total. I was involved with helping flesh out the world stories, around which the spine of the missions were built, and with delegating the work of writing to everyone. Normally, the lead writer handles the lion’s share of the main storyline, but I wanted to make sure all the writers felt invested in the process. So everyone got a shot at writing two or more world stories, and everyone had to pitch in on the grunt work of writing lines we call barks (AI reactions to in-game stims) and the in-world conversations. I coordinated with various departments like Level Design, or asked others to coordinate with AI and programming. When all was said and done, the team wrote and we recorded over 1,200,000 words in the span of about a year and a half. This included attending motion-capture sessions for a couple of months, and traveling to San Francisco and Toronto over several weeks to record dialogs.
8.) What are some of the essential skills video game script writers need to have?
Let’s assume that knowing how to write and that having an ear for dialogs and characterization are a given. Beyond that, the writers need to be able to collaborate with a team, and have to learn how to be seen as the troubleshooter. Those are the critical skills. Writers need to understand that they aren’t the only shareholders of the vision and that the rest of the team doesn’t fall in service to “their vision.” It might be that way at a couple of companies in the industry, but for the most part, writers work at the behest of the core creative team (Creative, Art, Game, & Level Design Directors). They have to respect (or come to terms with) the artistic vision of the Art Director, with the environments of Level Design, with the flow and pillars of Game Design. It’s a shared universe, and by collaborating with the team and providing them with solutions that help you and them, you’ll come to be seen as a troubleshooter who has the answers. It’s not about shouting to be heard. It’s about giving your voice value when you do speak.
9.) What is your opinion regarding the new SFWA qualifications for game writers?
I’m grateful that the SFWA expanded its criteria to include games, though I think their criteria of $.06 a word is a touch steep since the RPG industry doesn’t pay to the scale of either the publishing or electronic industries. But, it’s not insurmountable, either, and it’s a huge step in the right direction. The new realities of being a writer should rightly allow for the creation of mythologies and for world building as their own form of a global narrative. Whether a writer contributes to fiction or an actual script, the reality is that game writers produce a ton of content that never sees print, but still helps guide their team in the creation of a living and breathing world. I’ve seen online articles focus exclusively on the humor found in written item entries for a game’s menu, for example. It goes to prove that when it comes to game writing, any and all words you write can have a market and an audience.
10.) If you had one piece of advice for writers hoping to break into video games, what would you tell them?
Let’s spare you the “play play play” version of “read read read.” Join the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) and attend their functions if you’re lucky enough to have them in your city. It’s a good way to meet the game developers in your area and to talk to producers and recruiters and find out who is looking for talent. Attend the growing number of conventions with strong narrative tracks, like the Games Developers Conference (GDC) and the East Coast Games Conference (ECGC). Start following the writers you respect and get involved in the various conversations happening on various websites. Don’t just look to the ones talking about the development of games themselves, but also to the ones discussing games from a social point of view. And finally, look at the companies crafting your favorite games and either check on their jobs available page for openings or send a quick query to them. I will say this, though. Ubisoft frequently has openings pop up on its website, but this is almost always for in-house talent, meaning if you want to work for Ubi, you’ll have to commit to the prospect of moving for the job.
Monica Valentinelli writes stories, games, essays, and comics for media/tie-in properties and her original works from her studio in the Midwest. She’s a former musician of 20+ years and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Creative Writing program who now writes full-time. Best known for her work in games, Monica is currently the developer for Hunter: the Vigil Second Edition, and was the lead developer/writer for the Firefly RPG line based on the Firefly TV show by Joss Whedon. Her new book The Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary and Language Guide in the ’Verse recently debuted from Titan Books. Her co-edited anthology Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling debuted from Apex Book Company in December 2016.
Easy Tortilla Soup with Red lentils. 1 Pot 30 Minutes! Add veggies of choice, garnish with tortilla chips or avocado. Vegan Gluten-free Soy-free Nut-free Recipe.
This easy 1 pot tortilla soup has red lentils, peppers, tomato, veggies that you want and a few spices. Put everything in a saucepan and simmer until done. I like red lentils in this soup as they cook quicker and make for a lighter dinner. Beans can be an issue for some for dinner, and this works out perfectly. You can also add in some uncooked washed quinoa while simmering. Add veggies of choice and serve with garnishes of choice.
Few ingredients, 1 pot, filling and quick. whats your favorite addition to tortilla soups?
Continue reading: Red Lentil Tortilla Soup
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The Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) announced on March 21, 2017 that they “will henceforth and forevermore (at least until the next member vote) be known as: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association.” The decision was made through a vote of 134 members of the organization, who also elected to retain the original SFPA acronym.
For more information, including a complete breakdown of the votes, see the SFPA’s official SpecPo blog.
The shortlists for the 2016 Australian Shadows Awards were announced March 16, 2017. The award is given by the Australian Horror Writers Association (AHWA) and “celebrates the finest in horror and dark fiction published by an Australian or New Zealander.”
Best Short Fiction
- “D Is for Death”, Pete Aldin (C is for Chimera)
- “Midnight in the Graffiti Tunnel”, Terry Dowling (Dreaming in the Dark)
- “Protege”, Anthony Ferguson (Monsters Among Us)
- “No Other Men in Mitchell”, Rose Hartley (Nightmare 2/16)
- “Selfie”, Lee Murray (SQ Mag 5/16)
- “What the Sea Wants”, Deb Sheldon (SQ Mag 2/16)
- “Uncontainable”, Helen Stubbs (Apex 12/16)
- “All Roll Over”, Kaaron Warren (In Your Face)
- “Fade to Grey”, Janeen Webb (Dreaming in the Dark)
Best Collected Works
Best Edited Work
Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction
There were no nominees in the Comics/Graphic Novels or Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism categories this year.
For more information, see the AHWA website.
Jim Fiscus has been awarded the 2017 Kevin O’Donnell, Jr. Service to SFWA Award for “his outstanding work on behalf of the organization.” Fiscus has been involved with the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America since he began volunteering in 1990.
The award will be presented during SFWA’s 51st Annual Nebula Conference, May 18-21, 2017 at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center in Pittsburgh PA.
For more information, see the SFWA website.
Here's the synopsis:
"Freckles is new at her elementary school, and Oliver wants to be sure she finds her niche. So when she joins the pet club and gets roped into putting on a talent show to raise money for the local animal shelter, Oliver has no choice but to help out. What he doesn't bargain for is that Freckles takes in a foster kitten! Turns out, while Oliver values his independence, he's not so eager to give up being center stage."
The book is available at the following booksellers:
Thanks a bunch!
Winners of the This Is Horror Awards 2016 were announced March 20, 2017. Winners were chosen by open vote through the This Is Horror website.
Novel of the Year
Novella of the Year
Short Story Collection of the Year
Anthology of the Year
- Winner: Autumn Cthulhu, Mike Davis, ed. (Lovecraft eZine)
- Runner-up: Gutted, Doug Murano & D. Alexander Ward, eds. (Crystal Lake)
Fiction Magazine of the Year
- Winner: The Lovecraft eZine
- Runner-up: Nightmare Magazine
- Apex Magazine
- Black Static
- The Dark Magazine
- Strange Aeons
Publisher of the Year
- Winner: Word Horde
- Runner-up: Crystal Lake
- Dark Regions
- Grey Matter
- Perpetual Motion Machine
Fiction Podcast of the Year
- Winner: Pseudopod
- Runner-up: The Other Stories
- The Black Tapes
- Small Town Horror
- Welcome To Night Vale
Nonfiction Podcast of the Year
- Winner: The Lovecraft eZine Podcast
- Runner-up: The Know Fear Cast
- The Faculty of Horror
- The Grim Tidings Podcast
- The Horror Show with Brian Keene
Still working on getting back on my feet. My sketchbook is pretty sad right now.
Baen Books has announced the winner of the 2017 Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award:
- Grand Prize: “Feldspar”, Philip A. Kramer
- First runner-up: “Bullet Catch”, Stephen Lawson
- Second runner-up: “An Economy of Air”, M.T. Reiten
Other finalists include:
- Stewart C. Baker
- S.B. Divya
- Susan Forest
- C. Stuart Hardwick
- Bart Kemper
- Harry Lang
- Angus McIntyre
The winning story will be featured on the Baen website. The author will be given a trophy, paid a professional rate, and receive free admission into the 2017 International Space Development Conference and a year’s membership in the National Space Society, as well as an assortment of Baen Books and National Space Society merchandise. Awards will be presented on May 26, 2017 during the International Space Development Conference, held at the Union Station Hotel in St. Louis MO.
For more information, including the lists of past winners, see the official award webpage.
Artist Bernie Wrightson, 68, died March 18, 2017 in Austin TX of brain cancer. Wrightson is best known for his comics, including the creation of DC Comics character Swamp Thing (1971, with writer Len Wein), and for his horror illustrations.
Bernard Albert Wrightson was born October 27, 1948 in Dundalk MD. He started work as a newspaper illustrator in 1966, and in 1968 began freelancing for DC Comics. His first professional comic story, “The Man Who Murdered Himself”, appeared in 1969 in DC’s House of Mystery, and he went on to work for Marvel, DC, and other comics companies throughout his career. In 1975 he joined artists’ collective “The Studio” with Jeffrey Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Barry Windsor-Smith. He extensively illustrated Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, culminating in landmark book Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein (1983). He illustrated the comic book adaptation of Stephen King’s Creepshow in 1983 and later did illustrations for King’s books Cycle of the Werewolf, The Stand, and Wolves of the Calla. He also illustrated work by L. Sprague de Camp and David J. Schow, among others, and did conceptual art for numerous films. He was twice nominated for Chesley Awards (in 1998 and 2003), and his illustrated narrative “Spuds” (2000) was a Bram Stoker Award finalist.
Wrightson was diagnosed with brain cancer and underwent multiple surgeries before announcing his retirement in late January 2017, when he could no longer travel or produce new art. Wrightson was predeceased by first wife Michele Wrightson in 2015, and is survived by second wife Liz Wrightson, two sons from his first marriage, and a stepson.
The shortlists for the Carnegie Medal for best children’s book and the Kate Greenaway Medal for best illustrations in a children’s book were announced March 16, 2017. Titles of genre interest follow.
The awards are presented by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. The winners will be announced June 19, 2017 in a ceremony at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London. For full lists, see the Carnegie Greenaway website.
8 Spice Veggie Stir fry – Vegetable Masala Subzi. Use up the veggies to make this dry Veggie Stir fry with Indian Spices. Serve with Dal or Curries or make a wrap with a dressing of choice. Vegan Gluten-free Soy-free Nut-free Recipe
This easy Indian Spiced Veggie stir fry is great to use up all the veggies from the refrigerator or the CSA box. Chop them all to somewhat similar size, roast up the spices, add veggies and cook until done.
I use a 8 spices in this stir fry. Fenugreek, black pepper, cumin, coriander, mustard, turmeric, cayenne and cinnamon. Together these spices make this a fragrant and mouth watering stir fry. These spiced veggies can also be put into a wrap or burrito and served with cilantro mint chutney or vegan ranch or coconut chutney. Or serve with Lentil Dals, or easy curries.
Try it and let me know how it worked out! I made wraps with the veggies with some vegan ranch. So good!
Continue reading: 8 Spice Veggie Stir fry – Vegetable Masala Subzi
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Happy Weekend Readers! Hope everyone is surviving the frenetic weather that Smarch has delivered. I’m sure this has nothing to do with global climate change…
How do children raised in non-religious households fare compared to their religious peers? In other words, do Secular Family Values stand the test of time? The answer, unsurprisingly is “quite well thank you.”
For secular people, morality is predicated on one simple principle: empathetic reciprocity, widely known as the Golden Rule. Treating other people as you would like to be treated. It is an ancient, universal ethical imperative. And it requires no supernatural beliefs. As one atheist mom who wanted to be identified only as Debbie told me: “The way we teach them what is right and what is wrong is by trying to instill a sense of empathy … how other people feel. You know, just trying to give them that sense of what it’s like to be on the other end of their actions. And I don’t see any need for God in that. …
“If your morality is all tied in with God,” she continued, “what if you at some point start to question the existence of God? Does that mean your moral sense suddenly crumbles? The way we are teaching our children … no matter what they choose to believe later in life, even if they become religious or whatever, they are still going to have that system.”
The video of the discussion between Patt Morrison and Phil Zuckerman, author of “Living the Secular Life.” is pretty cool as well.
“Yup, I have my own kid now. And yup, I still think spanking is a terrible and cruel form of discipline,” writes VSB editor in chief Damon Young.
Jennifer Harvey at The New York Times asks, “Are We Raising Racists?”
Of the many dangers this presidency poses, one of the greatest is deep damage to our children’s perceptions of race, gender and other kinds of difference. We know the youngest children internalize racist perceptions of themselves and others. As early as age 5, children recognize differential treatment and understand something about the social status of different racial groups, their own group and others.
These effects are powerful in normal times. In this political climate, they’re on steroids.
Fantasy Baseball buddy of mine, SAHD and blogger at Home Field Dad Ryan Darcy has a guest post up at Insta-Father all about What Every New Stay at Home Dad Needs to Know.
Romper has a great list (of course) of Advice Every Mom With an Anxious Kid Dreads Hearing.
When it comes to education, we need Death Education as much as we need Sex Education.
Not enough places to put LEGO Bricks in your home? Try LEGO Tape!
I’ve been recommended a PBS Documentary “9 Months That Made You”, which is on Netflix this month. It’s about makin BBs!!!
Ryan Reynolds’ Twitter Feed is cruel Dad Joke heaven…
Finally, The White House’s Office of Management and Budget Director and Irish Gangster period piece character Mick Mulvaney had some stupendously wrong shit to say about the efficacy of after school programs…
“They’re supposed to be educational programs, right? That’s what they’re supposed to do. They’re supposed to help kids who don’t get fed at home, get fed so that they do better at school,” Mulvaney said Thursday. “Guess what? There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually doing that. There’s no demonstrable evidence they’re actually helping results, helping kids do better at school.”
The facts are not on The Mick’s side however…
But a U.S. Department of Education report on the 2013-14 school year, the most recent year for which data is available, concluded that student participation in Community Learning Centers led to improvements in achievement and behavior. Half of students improved their homework completion and in-class participation. More than a third of participants also improved their grades in math and English, according to the report.
And when it comes to after-school nutrition programs, research has shown the academic benefits of alleviating hunger among students.
“Hunger due to insufficient food intake is associated with lower grades, higher rates of absenteeism, repeating a grade, and an inability to focus among students,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report on health and academic achievement, which also noted that inadequate consumption of certain foods and nutrients has been associated with similar results.
Featured Image Credit: The Simpsons
by Aidan Doyle
Twine was created by Chris Klimas in 2009 and is “an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories.” Simply put, it’s a program that makes it easier for writers to make their own “Choose Your Own Adventure” style fiction. There are a number of tools for writing interactive fiction, but Twine is one of the simplest and most popular.
Interactive Fiction (IF) comes in many forms, including text-based parser games such as Zork where the player types in commands (Go north. Eat chocolate. Talk to green wizard). If you want to make this style of game, then Inform is probably your best option. Ken Liu’s Clockwork Soldier is an example of a traditional story which has IF-like commands embedded within it.
In contrast, stories written in Twine generally present the reader with choices in the form of hypertext links. Although there are many systems available for writing IF, Twine in particular has been celebrated for its ease of use. Twine is more focused on stories as opposed to games and produces HTML files, allowing anyone with a modern browser to read your story.
Marginalized communities have also adopted twine. In an interview with The Guardian, Twine author Anna Anthropy said: “If you can write a story, you can make a Twine game. A lot of people have been making all this weird amazing stuff. Someone made a Twine game, In Memoriam, for his dead brother. Someone made a Twine game about what it’s like to come out as bi in a lesbian community and be re-closeted. Someone made a game about what it’s like to sacrifice to the devil and receive a strange new pneumatic body with which you take over the world. Twine is this amazing queer and woman-orientated game-making community that didn’t even exist a year ago.”
To see what Twine is capable of doing I recommend having a look at Michael Lutz’ creepy psychological horror story My Father’s Long, Long Legs and the equally disturbing The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo Author Porpentine is known for her poetic mood pieces, such as Their Angelical Understanding which boasts the wonderful opening line: “I train to fight angels in a monastery by the sea.” Her story Neon Haze also features similarly memorable lines.
Perhaps the most famous Twine game is Zoe Quinn and Patrick Lindsey’s Depression Quest described as “an interactive (non) fiction about living with depression” that gives the reader choices illustrating how difficult it can be to deal with depression.
sub-Q and Strange Horizons are two magazines that pay pro rates for short IF. sub-Q is an online magazine devoted to IF and has published stories by genre writers including E. Lily Yu (The Tower and the Toucan) and JY Yang (Before the Storm Hits. Strange Horizons occasionally publishes IF such as Bogi Takács’ You Are Here. Both magazines are looking for shorter works rather than sprawling epic games. Traditionally IF games have been written in second person (“You are standing in an open field west of a white house”) whereas sub-Q prefers stories written in first or third person.
The Interactive Fiction Competition (IFComp) is an annual (unpaid) competition showcasing the work of IF entries and has been running for more than twenty years. It caters to both parser games such as those written in Inform, as well as the increasingly popular choice style Twine games.
Other options for publishing your IF include making it available via indy game sites such as itch.io or bundling them as apps for mobile devices (although publishing things in the App Store requires you to have a developer account and is a more complicated process). Alternatives to Twine include Choice of Games’ Choice Script and Ink, which was used to produce 80 Days.
For a more complete introduction to the world of IF see Yoon Ha Lee’s article in Strange Horizons, Emily Short’s Guide to Writing IF, Brass Lantern or The Short Game’s podcast episode on IF.
One of the things readers often look for in story-driven IF is for their choices to be meaningful. It’s generally not a good idea to present a reader with twenty different things to choose from, none of which have any impact on the rest of the game. If the story makes a big deal about whether I choose to ride a t-rex or a triceratops to work it can be annoying if that choice isn’t mentioned in the rest of the story. The Mass Effect games are more RPG than IF, but one of the reasons they were so popular is they allowed you to make decisions about which characters survived and these decisions changed how other characters reacted to you, even extending beyond the first game into later games in the series. Of course there are always exceptions. Adam Cadre’s Photopia is a modern IF parser game classic (a poll of intfiction.org readers voted it best IF of all time, but some people don’t like it because their choices “don’t matter.” The more choices you present in a game, the more complicated it becomes, especially when you have multiple branching endings. Until you’re more experienced with writing IF, it’s a good idea to start with something simple.
In part two, I show you how to use Twine.
Aidan Doyle (@aidan_doyle) is an Australian writer and computer programmer. He has visited more than 90 countries and his experiences include teaching English in Japan, interviewing ninjas in Bolivia, and going ten-pin bowling in North Korea. His stories have been published in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and Fireside, and he has been shortlisted for Australia’s Aurealis Award.
Dennis Etchison and Thomas F. Monteleone will be awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards by the Horror Writers Association (HWA).
The Lifetime Achievement Award is given annually to “individuals whose work has substantially influenced the horror and dark fantasy genres.” The awards will be presented during StokerCon 2017, held aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach CA, April 27-30, 2017. For more information, see the HWA website.
Paul Weimer has won the Down Under Fan Fund (DUFF).
The 2017 fund is intended to send fans from North America to attend Continuum 13, the 56th Australian National Science Fiction Convention, to be held at the Jasper Hotel in Melbourne on June 9-12, 2017.
DUFF is open to anyone who has been active in science fiction fandom before the start of the previous year. Candidates for a northbound trip must be residents of Australia or New Zealand.
For more information, see the Oz Fan Funds site.
Treat radar activate.
This comic brought to you courtesy of my amazing patrons. Special thanks to:
Karen Carpenter, Gary Cooper, Dan Cunningham, Colin Dellow, ‘Giz’, Reece Hall, Erica Holcombe, Yuliya Levina, Jonna Märijärvi, Coté Nicholas, ‘Scott’
Sticky Ginger Sesame Tofu and Veggie stir fry with vermicelli or maifun noodles. Easy weekday 30 Minute Dinner. No Refined Sugar! Maple syrup adds sweetness. Vegan Gluten-free nut-free Recipe. Use chickpeas or more veggies to make Tofu-free.
This bowl of amazing food can be ready to serve within 30 minutes. Sticky, gingery, sesame tofu stir fry. Serve over rice/grains or vermicelli noodles!
The sauce is simple and uses maple to sweeten. Crisp up the tofu, roast the veggies, add sauce ingredients, thicken and done. I served this over brown rice maifun. You can also use my general tso’s sauce to make this stir fry. Use whichever veggies you have. Use more veggies or chickpeas instead of tofu to make tofu-free. Add some crunch with bean sprouts or cucumbers. Serve hot for winters and warm cool in the summer. Easy, quick and Delicious. Also without any added refined sugar. This saue uses maple syrup for the sweet profile. What are you cooking up this weekend?
Continue reading: Sticky Ginger Sesame Tofu and Veggies
The post Sticky Ginger Sesame Tofu and Veggies appeared first on Vegan Richa.
“I’m a bit lost. My older child is 2 years and 10 months old. For the past week he’s been telling me he’s a baby. I acknowledge his comments by playing pretend that he’s a baby, but I’m concerned about whether I’m doing the right thing. He asks to be fed (when he has been doing it on his own for a year), and he wants to be picked up all the time. I wonder if jealousy finally kicked in (my younger one is now 18 months old and more vocal), and he feels displaced by his sister? I admit there’s been occasions where I don’t play along and tell him in a nice way that he can do it on his own because he’s a big boy. How do you approach this?” – Ana
Yes, I think you nailed it: “I wonder if jealousy finally kicked in (my younger one is now 18 months old and more vocal), and he feels displaced by his sister?”
The emotional process of accepting a new sibling is unique to each child. Some children appear most unnerved during their mother’s pregnancy, perhaps anxious about all the mysterious, impending changes they sense but for which they have no frame of reference. These children might even feel relieved when the baby finally arrives and becomes a reality for them.
Other children might be only slightly rattled during the pregnancy and far more uncomfortable after the birth when they experience the sudden shift in their parents’ focus. Still others don’t feel the sting of rivalry until their baby sibling hits developmental milestones that make them seem like an actual “person” and a greater threat, like when the baby begins crawling, walking or, as in your case, Ana, talking. Particularly sensitive children feel waves of discomfort throughout all of the above.
Acting like a baby can serve two primary purposes:
- Play therapy
Playing out a fantasy of reverting to babyhood is one of the ways children process their feelings around this major life adjustment, and we can help them by accepting and trusting this behavior (rather than being concerned, annoyed, or judgmental about it). It is through play that children explore, understand, heal, and gain a sense of control over their feelings around new and uncomfortable experiences. Play therapy also helps children explore the perspectives of others. Through imitation kids can try on that person’s shoes (or booties, in this case), which helps them to understand and empathize with that person’s experience. This is also why children sometimes imitate the behaviors and personality traits of their peers or characters from books and movies. If this “make believe” behavior gets a nervous, negative or uncomfortable reaction from parents, children might be compelled to continue testing that.
- Physical nurturing and unconditional acceptance
Infants get a lot of hands-on care, nurturing, and affection, so it’s understandable that a child who feels unsettled by the addition of a sibling would want to recapture some of that physical love. It’s also common for young children to act out their uncomfortable feelings through impulsive limit pushing behavior that might be directed at the parents, the baby or both. As challenging as it can be for us to empathize with our children in these situations (I share more about that HERE), our harsher reactions tend to intensify their feelings of hurt and rejection. The unconditional love that the baby is receiving looks very attractive in comparison.
But none of this means that parents should feel obliged to heed all our children’s requests to be fed and carried, etc. Children don’t need us to play along with babyish behaviors so much as fully accept and allow them.
Acceptance stems from trusting that the behavior is serving a healthy purpose for our child and, therefore, not being judgmental about it or worrying that he’s losing his abilities to talk, walk or dress himself, etc. So we don’t try to fix the behavior, nor do we coax or shame him to stop it. And because we don’t perceive it as a demand or need we must fulfill, we don’t let it get on our nerves.
Set clear boundaries and trust the feelings
In your case, Ana, I would not “tell him in a nice way that he can do it on his own because he’s a big boy.” Instead of trying to talk him out of his request, be clear and comfortable with asserting your boundaries.
“You want me to pick you up. I can’t right now, but in a few minutes I’m going to sit on the sofa and I’d love to have you on my lap.” Then if he continues to ask or becomes upset, you might acknowledge, “You really wanted me to carry you and I said no. That’s upsetting.” Trust him to express his feelings for as long as he needs to in response to your reasonable limits. This is how children heal their pain.
Play along wholeheartedly — or not at all
Children deserve our honesty and clarity. It’s unfair and unloving to begrudgingly give in to please them. Our resentment creates guilt for them and poisons our parent-child relationship. We are the only ones who can prevent this from happening, which is why it’s so important to stay tuned in to own needs, wants, and boundaries. So, if we are fully on board and available to spoon feed, carry or play with our child, we should do it with gusto. If not, we should kindly and clearly say no and not judge or resent our child for asking. We might reply, “I love feeding you, my baby, but I’m going to take this time to eat my own food along with you.”
Pay undivided attention
There’s another reason children behave like babies besides the two I mention above. It’s an attention getter. Unfortunately, the attention it commonly gets from parents is annoyance and impatience, which is not helpful. So, besides perceiving this behavior as healthy and not letting it bother us, we can also help alleviate the urgency for it by fulfilling our children’s attention needs (which are a lot easier to fill than their 24/7 attention wants). One of the best ways to do that is to put aside all our distractions during caregiving activities like dressing, bathing, diapering (or potty help), mealtimes and bedtime rituals and be fully available to our child in those interactions. We won’t be able to do this every time, but we can seize these opportunities as best we can. Our engaged presence while our child plays, putters or just hangs out with us is an added bonus.
Ana, I hope this answers your questions and isn’t way more than you wanted to know.
I share more about being confident leaders and setting limits with empathy in
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame.
The Lambda Literary Foundation announced finalists for the 29th Annual Lambda Literary Awards (the “Lammys”), celebrating excellence in LGBTQ literature in a wide variety of categories. Nominees of genre interest follow.
- The Devourers, Indra Das (Del Rey)
- Lily, Michael Thomas Ford (Lethe)
- Will Do Magic for Small Change, Andrea Hairston (Aqueduct)
- All Good Children, Dayna Ingram (Lethe)
- Irish Black, David Lennon (Blue Spike)
- A Little Queermas Carol, Sassafras Lowrey (PoMo Freakshow)
- Style of Attack Report, Ras Mashramani, Rasheedah Phillips, Alex Smith & M. Eighteen Téllez (Metropolarity)
- The Kissing Booth Girl, A.C. Wise (Lethe)
Also of genre interest are The Midnight Star, Marie Lu (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers) in LGBTQ Children’s/Young Adult and Coils, Barbara Ann Wright (Bold Strokes) in Lesbian Romance.
The awards will be presented at the 29th Annual Lambda Literary Awards Ceremony held June 12, 2017 at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York City.
Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX near Waterloo station, 25th March, 11am onwards. Please note slight change of location this month – Green Bar rather than Blue, e.g. same thing but the opposite side.
Crafting day. I can teach knitting to intermediate, or please bring any other craft which won’t mess up the venue too much (and if relevent please bring stash/needles to lend to beginners?) Or just come and chat with us.
The venue sell food in a cafe (standard sandwiches etc.), but they also don’t mind people bringing food in from outside. There are several other local places where you can buy stuff as well. The excellent food market outside has loads of different food options, which can fit most food requirements, or you can also bring a packed lunch.
Meet on the fourth floor, outside the Green Bar (go up in lift 1, sadly not as musical as lift 7). I have tried to check with the centre to make sure the Green Bar is free, but if not I will update this post and in the Facebook group to say where we are – or email me if you’re lost…
Here is the accessibility map of the Royal Festival Hall: PDF map
I will have my Cthulhu with me, which looks like this: http://forbiddenplanet.com/3950-cthulhu-baby-plush/ I have shoulder length brown hair and glasses.
The venue is accessible via a lift, and has accessible toilets. Waterloo tube station has step free access on the Jubilee line but not on the Northern line.
The London Awkward group has a Facebook page, which is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/549571375087294/. There is also a thread in the new forums for saying hello.
My email is Kate DOT Towner AT Gmail DOT com
(April meetup will be the 22nd.)
by Richard J. Chwedyk
Writers are not always the most sociable of creatures. We sit by ourselves and stare into screens, or blank sheets of paper. We’re locked away in little rooms, or sitting in cafés – but alone, tapping or scribbling away. Not always, but often enough. Solitude comes with the territory of getting our work done.
And yet, writers are often asked to teach. Many writers take to the change of pace with enthusiasm. Many others view this kind of employment with existential dread. Perhaps for good reason. Before you can teach, you need ask yourself what you know.
I’ve been asked by writers and former students who are on the verge of teaching their first classes: what should they do? What’s the most important thing they can do to make the experience most beneficial to teachers and students.
There are too many things to tell these writers in one quick reply. A lot of it won’t make sense and more of it won’t ease any of the anxieties they may suffer. So I try to boil it down to the most important stuff, in the way it was boiled down to me – one or two things. Everything else fits under them.
The first one I stumbled upon in the first weeks teaching my first science fiction writing class. I had some doubts about how the class was going. I ran into the department chairman, Randy Albers, and he asked me how the class was going. When I hesitated in my reply, he sensed my anxiety and asked if I wanted to talk about it. Demonstrating an unusual degree of good judgment for me, I said yes. We went to his office.
To allay any mystery, let me tell you what was worrying me was, of all things, the unbridled enthusiasm of my students. I was kind of overwhelmed and afraid I couldn’t control it – as if control were important. I didn’t know.
Randy listened politely. He asked me, after a moment, one question: “Is it good for the students?” The question cut to the chase in the most obvious way, I was embarrassed I didn’t think of it myself.
“Yes,” I said. “They’re enthused and excited by the class. How can it not be good?”
Randy nodded sagely (because he is a sage, after all). “If if it’s good for the students is what matters. That’s who we’re here for.”
In that instant, a multitude of doubts evaporated (not all, of course, but that comes with the territory).
The second one came to me way, way back, in the last century. I was about to go forth and teach my first Comp. 101 class – my very first teaching gig – and I didn’t have a clue as to what the hell I was going to do.
My unofficial mentor – a wonderful woman , an experienced teacher and an editor for a business publisher (not to mention a no-nonsense Army-brat-martinet) – could easily tell I was scared shitless, so she described to me how she threw up before class and how everyone else she knew who had taught threw up before their first class. “If you’re not vomiting, you’re already ahead.”
The appointed hour came and she had to go to her own class. Her class was up one flight of stairs and mine was down another. She wished me luck and I said something like “Luck be damned! What the hell do I do?”
She was halfway up the stairs already and she called back, “What do you love?”
I thought a moment and said, “Fiction. I love fiction. Science fiction.”
She nodded and shouted back, “Teach that. Teach what you love.”
It was the best advice I ever received, or ever will, about teaching – though it’s taken me over twenty years to figure out how to do it (somewhat).
I don’t know shit, but I LOVE this (whatever I’m pointing to right now).
And so I go into every class with a rough idea of what I might do (or what my syllabus prescribes), but ready to accept that something different may happen. And that’s okay.
So, for those going forth to teach, it boils down to:
1.) You’re there for the students, and
2.) Teach what you love.
The rest is in the hands of Fate.
Richard Chwedyk is a Nebula Award-winning science fiction writer, poet and teacher. His work has appeared in Nebula Awards Showcase 2004, Year’s Best SF 7, Year’s Best SF 8, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Amazing Stories, Space and Time, 80! Memories and Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin and other publications. A collection of his “saur” stories is making the rounds. He lives in Chicago with his wife, poet Pamela Miller, and occasionally blogs at Critinomicon.
Anna-Marie McLemore’s novel When the Moon Was Ours (Dunne) won the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Award, given annually to works of science fiction or fantasy that explore and expand gender roles. McLemore will receive $1,000, original artwork created to honor the novel, and chocolate. McLemore will be honored at a ceremony during WisCon, May 26-29, 2017 in Madison WI.
The Tiptree jury released an “honor list” recognizing other noteworthy works:
The jurors also released a “long list of 12 other works they found worthy of attention.” Jurors were Jeanne Gomoll (chair), Aimee Bahng, James Fox, Roxanne Samer, and Deb Taber.
Recommendations for the 2017 reading list are open until December 1, 2017. The 2017 jurors will be Alexis Lothian (chair), E.J. Fischer, Kazue Harada, Cheryl Morgan, and Julia Starkey.
For more information, see the Tiptree website.
When I first heard that FFXV was going to break with franchise tradition by having an all-male central team, I was more than a little surprised. Final Fantasy has always been distinguished as much by its memorable – and central – female characters as by any other element; which is why, somewhat paradoxically, I never felt particularly angry about the switch, either. As a whole, video games are still male-dominated in a way that frequently sets my teeth on edge, but Final Fantasy has a strong line of credit with me: whatever my thoughts on the state of gaming as an industry – and while criticism of Square Enix’s decision in this context is nonetheless valid – I felt I could still attempt the game itself.
Thus far, at roughly eight hours in – which is, I’m aware, not very far at all – I’m enjoying myself immensely, though possibly not in a way that was intended. And in order to satisfactorily explain why that is, I first need to say a little about my history with the franchise.
The first Final Fantasy I ever played was VIII, which always made me something of an oddity among my friends: unlike everyone who started the series at VII or earlier, I had no established sense of how the combat system ought to work, and so took the VIII model, which was a widely-hated departure from canon, as my yardstick for the series. This meant I was not only frustrated by the traditional setup used in VII and IX, but irritated by the more cartoonish character designs. Which isn’t to say that I disliked either game, exactly: just that they were always less beloved to me than VIII and, later on, X and XII, whose advanced graphics and combat systems more closely resembled what VIII had been trying – with, admittedly, more ambition than success – to achieve.
Even now, XII remains my favourite Final Fantasy. The writing and voice acting were both incredible, and even though Vaan, rather than Ashe, was the POV character, I loved the departure from canon that made him a non-romantic participant in her narrative. By contrast, XIII was a clusterfuck, so much so that I quickly set it aside as unplayable: the writing was naff, the voice acting melodramatic (with the single exception of Sazh), the premise confused and the combat frustratingly garbled. I couldn’t understand how the best aspects of XII had been so thoroughly disregarded, and as such, I never bothered with the sequel, which makes XV the first new Final Fantasy I’ve played since 2010.
Aesthetically, then, XV is paying a great deal of homage to my favourite games in the series – VIII and XII – which predisposes me to love it. The opening premise of an invading empire and a missing heir to the throne is evocative of both Galbadia and Archadia, with Noctis’s early quest to recover lost weapons from ancient tombs running a close parallel to Ashe’s quest in XII. The fact that Noctis, Prompto, Ignis and Gladio spend the game driving around in a sports car might seem ridiculous on the surface, especially if you’ve got a preference for the airships of VII, IX and XII, but only if you’ve forgotten the convertibles and jeeps of VIII, where driving on the worldmap was also a feature, and where fancy cars were a staple of the more dramatic cutscenes.
In fact, there’s always been something of a roadtrip vibe to a lot of the Final Fantasy games, and not only in terms of the main party journeying thither and yon across multiple fictional worlds. The many flashbacks to Lord Braska’s pilgrimage in X show him broing it up with Auron and Jecht (to whom Gladio bears more than a superficial physical and vocal resemblance), while their decision to sphere-capture their adventures is a clear forerunner to Prompto’s photography. VIII didn’t lack for female characters, but the initial SEED test features a grumpily all-male party, with Squall, Zell and Seifer forced into a temporary alliance. Squall and Zell were always something of an odd pair, but delightfully so, and their dynamic has been revived – and, I’d argue, improved – in the byplay between Noctis and Prompto. Likewise, Ignis’s dry drawl and dryer expression are more than a little reminiscent of Balthier, though his dutiful priorities make him a closer equivalent to Auron and Basch.
In other words, the four protagonists of XV are themselves a homage to the male relationships of previous Final Fantasy games, and quite clearly so. Together, they interact much as you’d expect of a quartet of twentysomething men, joking and snarking at each other in equal measure. The writing and voice acting aren’t as good as XII, but they’re nowhere near the abysmal mess of XIII. I’d peg them as being on par with X: naff at times, but somehow endearingly so, and overall engaging. Granted, the background plot is complex – it helps to have watched the prequel movie, Kingsglaive, and there’s also an accompanying anime series – but part of what makes the quartet watchable is how clearly established their friendship is: we’re getting to know the characters by how they know each other.
As far as the gameplay and levelling systems go, I’ve got no complaints thus far. Even without being able to run through the full tutorial for fighting – my version kept glitching when it came to learning how to warp – I’ve still found it intuitive to use. It’s a dissimilar combat system to most FF games, in that it’s not turn-based, but neither is it as blindingly fast-paced or poorly-designed as the system used in XIII, and the ability to warp to targets makes for some engaging tactical options. It helps that I’ve just come off a huge Dragon Age: Inquisition jag: my preferred approach to combat in both games can best be described as “running in headfirst with a large sword and hitting things until they fall down,” with magic and projectile weapons left on auto until or unless I’m specifically forced to use them. Players who favour different tactics might have more complaints to level here, but for my purposes, it works just fine.
But what I’m really loving about XV is the extent to which – I assume unintentionally – it’s both hilarious and heavily queercoded.
I’ll deal with the latter first, because it’s arguably the more contentious point. Let me be clear: I’m not for one second giving Square Enix props for deliberately creating queer representation here, because I don’t think for a second that it’s what they actually meant to do – or at least, if they’re trying to muddle vaguely in that direction, then they haven’t had the guts to confirm it. Culturally, the lines we draw been homosocial and homosexual behaviour tend to be as historically arbitrary as they are fiercely policed, with any overlap subject to argument on both sides. But cultural differences is, I suspect, a large part of why XV reads the way it does: the game is originally Japanese, and in trying to cater to both Japanese and Western masculine ideals, Square Enix has wandered into what plays as a rather spectacularly queer compromise.
First and most obviously, there’s the wardrobe issue. Clearly, the all-black leather aesthetic is meant to look Manly and Cool and Deeply Heterosexual In A Traditionally Masculine Way, and if the designs were simple, functional and militaristic, then that would probably work, even given the youth and beauty of the characters (more of which shortly). But Final Fantasy, like a great many Japanese properties, is famous for its distinctive clothing designs, which means the characters look less like soldiers and more like scene kids en route to a metal concert. Specifically: Noctis and Prompto look like they shop at Hot Topic, Ignis is wearing Cuban heeled boots, driving gloves and seme glasses (seriously) and Gladio consistently looks like he’s posing for a Grindr photo. Like. I’m aware that he’s meant to be the most hypermasculine straight male self-identification fantasy of the four, what with the scar and the tattoos and the devastatingly Japanese mullet, but generally speaking, ripped guys in open leather shirts and tight leather pants are more visually reminiscent of Mardi Gras than the military. I’m just saying.
The fact that you can customise their outfits (to a degree), and that picking a new wardrobe changes their stats, isn’t a new development: in fact, it’s something the franchise first introduced with dress spheres in the all-female X-2, which makes its presence in the all-male XV a subtly pleasing symmetry. And yet it runs up against a standard of masculine gaming: changing your armour is one thing, because armour is Manly, but changing your clothes – which, stat bonuses or not, is what we’re functionally talking about – is something else entirely. It’s a truly strange demarcation, because there are plenty of instances where video game characters change outfits of their own accord, in cutscenes or for plot-specific purposes, or where the change represents a specific, all-over upgrade. But the option to alter the appearance of male characters for largely aesthetic reasons – to change how they look to you, the player, in clothes that are recognisably modern and fashionable – is not, I suspect, a common feature of games aimed at heterosexual men, nor is the in-game implication of the characters toting around a bunch of fancy matching outfits a particularly straight-coded thing.
And, okay. Even though we queer folk often telegraph our identities through fashion, there’s a degree of reductive stereotype inherent in judging sexuality on the basis of clothing choice, and if that were the only issue here, I wouldn’t have brought it up. (Except, of course, to point out the truly delightful ridiculousness of watching four goth boys run around the countryside in full club gear, often while complaining about the temperature. It’s like they’re headed for Glastonbury with monsters.) But the queercoding of XV is a package deal: it’s not just the clothes, but the clothes in combination with the characters themselves, the dialogue they’re given, and the way the four of them occupy the game.
Specifically: Final Fantasy is a gaming franchise that’s well aware, historically speaking, of its very large female fanbase. Even though the majority of the games have male protagonists, they’ve traditionally been designed for a straight female gaze – and more, I would argue, a teenage female gaze, given that the characters are usually in their teens or very early twenties – in line with aesthetics more Japanese than Western. Former heroes like Cloud, Squall, Zidane, Tidus and Vaan might be formidable warriors in-game, but they’re never beefed up: they’re overwhelmingly built lean, with much longer, more stylised hair than you typically see on masculine Western characters. They wear jewellery – often visible in their base character designs, and not just as a hidden accessory slot – and offhand, aside from various weird lines around Cloud crossdressing in VII, I can’t think of any real instances of sexism or misogyny from those characters that aren’t actively shut down. In fact, the number of female characters in the earlier games ensures that, in addition to any love interests, the leading men also have platonic female friends – something that’s still damnably unusual in most forms of media, let alone in video games.
All of which, thus far, holds true in XV, too: Princess Lunafreya, Noctis’s intended bride, is his childhood friend, as is Gladio’s sister, Iris. When the game begins, Noctis and his friends are travelling to meet Lunafreya before their (politically arranged) wedding; when everything goes awry because betrayal and empire, they’re forced to regroup and end up hanging out with Iris, who has escaped to the city of Lesallum. That’s where I’m up to so far, and what immediately stands out to me, as someone who spent a not inconsiderable portion of their adolescence and early twenties hanging around single straight guys, is the fact that the quartet barely ever talk about women at all. And the thing is, I can see why it’s been done! Final Fantasy has a heavy female fanbase, and in any case, they’re not the sort of games where the male soldiers sit around reminiscing about sexual conquests. But contextually, because of the way the game is presented – four friends driving and talking shit in real time, mocking each other, while initially on the way to see one of them married – the lack of talk about sex or romance of any kind is jarring.
Which isn’t to say the subject of women never comes up at all; it’s just that, when it does, the overwhelming impression is of dialogue written with a female audience in mind, but without any awareness of the queercoding implications of its delivery by these particular male characters. This means, for instance, that there’s a scene where the boys find a magazine article about Lunafreya’s wedding dress, and all of them start cooing about how beautiful it will be; Ignis notes that the dress is bespoke, designed by Vivienne Westwood, and Prompto starts enthusing about how pretty Lunafreya will look in it. In Hammerhead, the buxom mechanic Cindy, whose character design is clearly meant to please the straight male players, is someone who, in real life, you’d expect a bunch of straight boys on an ostensible stag trip to talk about. Except that they never do; and instead, the one time there’s a reference made to Gladio “chatting someone up,” it turns out to be a grumpily endearing scientist who wants you to go catch some frogs as penance for interrupting her research.
And then there’s Noctis taking a tour of Lestallum with Iris. Throughout this mini-quest, you’re given a set of binary conversational options to either encourage Iris in her enthusiasm for the town, or to disapprove. Then, at the end, she coyly suggests that being on the tour was almost like a date – an assertion you can either play off lightly, or outright deny: pointedly, there is no option to agree. If you deny, she laughs and says “you could at least play along for once,” suggesting that Iris knows Noctis isn’t interested in her and is willing to tease him about it – an odd thing to include, if you don’t want the audience to wonder about his preferences.
A little earlier in the game, Prompto asks Noctis what he ought to take more photos of: apart from declining, the only options are “me” (meaning Noctis), Ignis or Gladio. Again, there’s a gameworld logic to this – the photos are ultimately viewed by the player, who gets to pick which character they want to record the most – but in terms of the impact in setting, this is not an outstandingly heterosexual moment. Very possibly, there exists a group of straight bros whose designated photographer is happy asking, “Hey bro, which of our friends do you want to see more in pictures?” in an established No Homo way, and if so, more power to them. But if you want to find a context where that sort of exchange is an everyday thing, then look no further than the queer regions of Instagram. (Plus, it’s kind of conspicuous how often Prompto, when assessing the day’s photos, comments on how good Gladio the Perpetually Shirtless looks.)
And then there’s the occasional quirks of dialogue and voice acting: choices that, again, would be minor on their own, but which collectively become suggestive of something specific. Early on, Cor sends Gladio, Prompto and Ignis to make a distraction at a military blockade while he and Noctis sneak inside: the gambit is successful, and when the group reunites afterwards, Gladio says cheerfully, “The Niffs couldn’t keep their eyes off us!”. To which Ignis quips, in reference to Noctis and Cor’s arrival, “You spared us their attentions.” Offhand, I can think of about a dozen different ways to word that exchange that don’t remotely brush up against innuendo, and which are far more colloquially and contextually apt besides. The eyes/attentions combo is the kind of thing you’d expect a pair of femme fatales to say after seducing the guards and knocking them out in an action movie. (The fact that we don’t actually witness the initial distraction only adds to its ambiguity.) And yet, this is what they’ve gone with.
Other examples are smaller, but they all add up. Whenever you find new ingredients for Ignis to cook with, he stops to announce, with particular vocal flamboyance, that he’s just thought up a new recipe (exclamation mark!), and whips out a notebook to jot it down. (“I’ll taste test for ya,” Gladio says, in a playfully growling tone that always seems to have one eye on the bedroom.) And then there’s Prompto, who I’m inclined to think of as a confused bisexual puppy, whose voice turns dreamily fanboyish when discussing Cor’s exploits, and who gets just as excited on receiving Cor’s praise as he does at the prospect of seeing Lunafreya in her pretty wedding dress.
Put this all together, then, and what you have are a bunch of young men who are, by Western standards, more pretty than handsome, dressed in fashionable clothes and accessories that are more evocative of queer or queer-friendly subcultures than not, and who care enough about their appearance to have multiple outfits on hand at any given time. (You can, if you’re willing to sacrifice an accessory slot to aesthetics, buy hair gel for them to use.) These men are knowledgeable about fashion, have a platonic concern for the women they encounter, are constantly photographing one another for each other, have zero comments to make about the stupidly hot female mechanic unless they’re praising her competence, and whose idea of “chatting someone up” apparently means “talking to the grumpy frog lady about the local wildlife population”. This isn’t me leaping to conclusions, here: in the immortal words of Buffy Summers, I took a tiny step and there conclusions were.
All of which is a way of saying that, thus far, I’m delighted with Final Fantasy XV, though not in the ways I’d expected. The characters and setting are a homage to my favourite games in the series, and while I worried the absence of female characters would grate on me, our quartet of bumbling chocobros is stupidly endearing. At this point, Noctis is functionally useless as a prince: even when he’s recognised, the local yokels have no qualms about asking him to take their deliveries or run their errands, and while random sidequests are an RPG staple, they’re usually somewhat tailored to the protagonist’s perceived status. In FFXV, everything is rendered hilarious by the fact that Noctis is a prince, and is seen as a prince, and is still being asked to catch frogs in a swamp and grab shit from some random marketeer’s broken van.
(He’s also gloriously introverted: in dealing with people, his responses usually vary from monosyllabic to resigned disinterest, but when you come across a stray cat in need of feeding – a tiny sidequest that’s a deliberate throwback to Squall doing likewise in VIII – he talks to it at greater length and with more enthusiasm than he otherwise displays with anyone.)
As far as I’m concerned, FFXV is a magic road trip with a bunch of queer boys who have their wardrobes together, but not their shit. I can identify. And so, I suspect, can everyone else who’s fallen into the trashpile of this visually beautiful, thematically mishmash game. I honestly don’t care about the random anachronisms, like the fact that they’re carrying smartphones and fighting magic robots, but still using paper maps and newspapers, to say nothing of using a fucking dog as a messenger for vital correspondence through a warzone – or rather, I do care, but only because the clear discontinuity of it somehow plays as a feature instead of a bug. The entire thing ought to be ridiculous, and it kind of is, but pleasingly so, like a cat in a Halloween costume. The characters don’t take each other seriously, which frees the player up to do likewise – to laugh with them, rather than at them. And frankly, I’ll take that over XIII’s self-important melodrama any day of the week.
Easy Chia Orange Cranberry Muffins. These breakfast Muffins are simple and full of flavor. Blend up the wet and dry in a blender, pour and bake. Vegan Nut-free Soy-free Recipe. Makes 11 to 12 muffins. 1 Bowl or Blender, 6 Main Ingredients!
These Zesty Orange Muffins are perfect to add the sunshine to your day. They are super easy. Put all the wet in a blender, blend. Add chia seeds and let ithem sit for a few minutes. Then blend in the dry, pour into muffin pan, bake and done.
Beautiful, fluffy, zesty, seedy muffins.
Just like my Lemon Coconut Chia Muffins, these are citrusy fluffy muffins have chia seeds for a bit of texture. Orange juice helps the muffins brown and caramelize on top. Add any berries of choice. I had a big bag of frozen cranberries from fall which needed using and orange and cranberries are a perfect combination.
Continue reading: Blender Chia Orange Cranberry Muffins
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by Cat Rambo
Recently I worked Emerald City Comic Convention at the Bard’s Tower, a multi-author booth. I don’t think I was prepared as I could’ve been, and one of the things I did while I was there was to jot down a series of notes that might be useful to people working a book booth for the first time.
Before the convention
Make sure you have a business card. This should have your contact information, your social media presence (you’ll see why in the at the convention tips) and at least one way to find your books. You will also use it for networking; make sure there is enough blank space on it for you to jot a note down on it before handing it to someone. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on cards but I would also suggest not cheaping out. The lowest rate cards are often flimsy and can look unprofessional.
Bookmarks may seem like a waste of money but people often ask for them if they want to find your work later on. If you can afford them, they’re worth the investment, and don’t have to consume a lot of money.
Have an answer for the people who will tell you that they read electronically or listen only to audiobooks. Is your work available that way and where can they get it? (If not, why not?)
If you have a newsletter, have a sign-up sheet as well as some electronic freebie to promise people who sign up.
Depending on your budget you may want to have some small item to give away, like a sticker or temporary tattoo. Make sure it’s got your website URL on it!
Make sure you have enough inventory, and pack a bag with your own essentials: phone charger, pens, food and water, a basic first aid kit, and anything else that you might need over the course of the day.
Make sure you have comfortable shoes.
While at the convention
This is not the time to be shy and unassuming. Smile at people as they pass, say hi, ask what they like to read. You’re there to sell books, and these are people who like books usually.
Pull people in for a conversation. If you see a costume or T-shirt you like, ask if you can take a picture. Check to find out if it’s okay to post it on social media, and if they say yes, give them your card so they can find it later on. (I told you that social media information would come in handy.)
Pitch other people’s books but be sincere and knowledgeable about it. Listen to the other authors pitch and learn how to describe their books. People who buy one book may decide to pick up more, and if you’re making good recommendations, they’ll listen to you.
Focus your energy outside the booth, not inside. Chat with the other authors but keep an eye on the passing crowd. If you’re checking your phone no one’s going to want to talk to you even if they’ve got a question about your book.
On panels? Remember to let people know where they can find you and your books if they want to look for them.
If you’re active on social media, by all means, use it during the convention! Take pictures of the booth, fellow authors, the merchandise, and above all the fans! Let people know when you arrive at the booth, particularly if you’re spending limited time there.
After the convention
Take some time to think about things. What went wrong and what went right? Did any of your fellow authors have a brilliant strategy that you want to copy in the future?
Follow up on your networking. Go through the pile business cards you become elated you’ve accumulated and follow up on emails and things you promised.
- Remember to say thank you to the organizer! Putting together a booth is hard work.
Cat Rambo is the president of SFWA. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld Magazine, and Tor.com. Her short story, “Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” from her story collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. Her most recent book is the fantasy collection, Neither Here Nor There. For more about her, as well as links to her fiction, visit http://www.kittywumpus.net.
If you’re interested in learning more about writing, check out The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers for a list of courses and online course schedules.
Baen Books has released the list of ten finalists for the 2017 Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award:
- Stewart C. Baker
- S.B. Divya
- Susan Forest
- C. Stuart Hardwick
- Bart Kemper
- Philip A. Kramer
- Harry Lang
- Stephen Lawson
- Angus McIntyre
- M.T. Reiten
The winning story will be featured on the Baen website. The author will be given a trophy, paid a professional rate, and receive free admission into the 2017 International Space Development Conference and a year’s membership in the National Space Society, as well as an assortment of Baen Books and National Space Society merchandise.
The first, second, and third place winners will be announced and notified no later than March 22, 2017. For more information, including the lists of past winners, see the official award webpage.
The finalists for the 2016 Analog Analytical Laboratory (AnLab) Awards have been announced. All except one are available to be read online.
- “A Mind of Its Own”, Part 1 & Part 2, Edward M. Lerner (9/16 & 10/16)
- “Here We Go Loopedy Loop: A Brief History of Time Travel”, Part 1 & Part 2, Edward M. Lerner (5/16 & 6/16)
- “Human 2.0: Being All We Can Be”, Part 1 & Part 2, Edward M. Lerner (1-2/16 & 3/16)
- “Dawn Comes to the Asteroid Belt: What NASA’s 9-Year Mission is Learning About One of Science Fiction’s Favorite Realms”, Richard A. Lovett (11/16)
- “Energy for the Future: Solar-Derived Fuels, Artificial Leaves, and Electricity-Eating Microbes that Poop Out Gasoline”, Richard A. Lovett (7-8/16)
- December 2016, Vincent DiFate
- April 2016, Bob Eggleton
- June 2016, Bob Eggleton
- October 2016, Sandeep Karunakaran
- January/February 2016, Maurizio Manzieri
- March 2016, Eldar Zakirov
Winners will be announced during a breakfast ceremony at the 2017 SFWA Nebula conference, to be held at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center in Pittsburgh PA, May 18-21, 2017. For more information about the awards and a gallery of the nominated covers, see the Analog website.
A woman walks on a sidewalk near a river with Notre Dame cathedral visible in the background. Photo by me, 2008.
Our families & friends gifted Mr. Awkward and me with a honeymoon trip, and tomorrow’s the day. I’m not bringing a computer with me, so, I’ll see you at the end of March, except for the some of you I might see on March 18 (2pm-5pm, Cafe de Jardin du Petit Palais,Musée des Beaux-arts de la ville de Paris – Avenue Winston Churchill – 75008 Paris).
Questions are closed for now and I won’t be checking email with any reliability.
The archives (as always) are open, as are the forums at friendsofcaptainawkward.com.
Be excellent to each other, and to yourselves.
And spare a thought for Awkward Cat, who, though she will have daily visits from an adoring caretaker, will be so very lonely and pitiful while we’re gone.
A #smol black and white cat with giant green eyes and a pitiful, imploring facial expression. Unfortunately, she’s seen the suitcases which we were hiding from her in the bedroom.
Happy Weekend Readers. It’s the 12th of March and the Girl Scouts are celebrating their 104th birthday. I’ll take 2 boxes of Do-si-do’s please.
Whilst the Trump Justice Department pulls back from Obama era steps towards protecting transgender students, Hawaii has stepped up to be more inclusive and respectful, a legacy of the state’s progressive traditions as well as it’s Polynesian roots.
Speaking of respect and inclusion, Marvel Comics has stepped up as well, hiring queer Latina writer Gabby Rivera to write the adventures of queer Latina superhero America Chavez.
If you are like me you listen to a lot of podcasts. But how many of them can you listen to with your kids? Fatherly recommends 15 great podcasts for kids and adults to share.
Are your kids interested in activism in our tumultuous times? Do you wish they were? Here are the best books for raising activist kids.
Are your kids feeling overwhelmed by our tumultuous times? Deborah Heitner writes about what to do when the news intrudes…
Many of today’s parents watched or read the news with their own parents. Increasingly, as our kids get old enough to have phones and social media, or to simply be near them, they will see news in their social networks. And while news media might give more context to what kids are seeing, there are many more new outlets now, of varying quality. We need to teach our children to be discerning consumers of news.
The media environment can be a treacherous place for kids. From political news that’s hard to process to unedited violence on YouTube, it can be challenging for adults to handle. Imagine what it’s like for kids. Not to mention that the sheer media information load is staggering, with the barrage of new outlets that are always on, always competing for attention, and seemingly multiplying by the week.
Holy crap! During a dispute about driving in the school pick up zone, a Texas Mom pulls a gun on a fellow Mom. Because Texas…
We really like the Scary Mommy blog, so our hearts go out to founder Jill Smokler and her husband Jeff as they navigate a divorce after revealing the long held secret that Jeff is gay.
How should we teach children about history when that history is contested?
Patton Oswalt is back on the stand up stage after a tough year following the sudden death of his wife, writer Michelle McNamara last spring. He opened up to NPR last week about how popular culture gets grieving all wrong.
Bruce Wayne saw his parents gunned down in front of him when he was 9 and he travels the world and becomes this amazing [crime fighter]. … That’s ridiculous — he would have grown up to have been Gotham City’s most annoying slam poet. That’s what Bruce Wayne would have been. He would have been up there reading his horrible poems.
Speaking of Batman, being raised by the butler did turn him into a monster.
A 5 and 1/2 year old girl has dictated a letter to the Gap…
My name is Alice Jacob and I am almost 5½ years old. I like cool shirts like Superman and Batman shirts and race car shirts, too. All your girl shirts are pink and princesses and stuff like that. The boys’ shirts are really cool. They have Superman, Batman, rock-and-roll and sports. What about girls who like those things like me, and my friend Olivia?
Can you make some cool girls’ shirts please? Or, can you make a ‘no boys or girls’ section — only a kids’ section?
The rate of child marriages in the US is STAGGERING.
Sue the T-Rex at the Field Museum in Chicago has her own Twitter Feed. And she’s running a D&D game on it.
I have no opinion on this last story… but everyone else on the internet seems to have one. So let’s argue about the wisdom of putting a playground in the movie theater!
Here’s the latest development on the cutest creature in the universe Fiona, the Cincinnati Zoo’s brand new baby hippo!
Featured Image Credit: WCPO in Cincinnati
It’s really nice to know I have the love and support of my partners during stressful times. Where are some cities that aren’t terrible? Where do you all live?
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