2018: Heatwaves

My primary memory of the year was relentless heat. I don’t cope well with summer at the best of times, but the heatwave lasted for most of it and continued into autumn. Heat has always been something that causes sensory overloads, which meant I was faced with months of endless sensory overload with very few breaks.

The result was that I started the year doing things as expected and then pretty much everything stopped. My priority was simply to survive the heat. I spent time lying on the cold tiles, with trips to my room to change the ice for the animals. I couldn’t really focus on anything.

The good news is I’ve found a decent mobile air conditioner that’d work for my room. The family have agreed to pool their money to get it as a birthday present next year. It’s expensive, but something that can be budgeted for, rather than expensive like a car.

Going forward, I hope this means that I won’t be here again. But I was here this year. I lost a lot of time and have spent the winter scrambling to catch up.

 

Werecockroach

Early in the year, I published Werecockroach. It’s a science fantasy novella (and is eligible for any novella awards for the year, for those tracking such things). My aim was to make this more marketable than my other work. Not in the sense of following plot formulas or the like, but having things in the basic concept that might get attention. One being the whole idea of people turning into cockroaches. The other being own voices, which I discussed in the launch post.

I was also aiming for something that was lighter, as when things get rough, it’s what I’d want to read. I wanted the most cozy alien invasion possible with a focus on friendship.

The good news is the book has been selling. I ran some adverts as well as picking up some word-of-mouth recommendations on social media. Some months after release, it’s still continuing to sell in a way other books didn’t. The first reviews on Amazon and Goodreads have been positive.

I am cautious about this success though, which comes down to my experience with own voices. My previous books came out just before the big push of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices on social media. On the face of it, these looked like they should benefit a marginalised author. What actually happened is I didn’t have enough work that fit neatly. Things like recommendation requests increasingly moved to wanting own voices authors rather than marginalised authors. My work sank and I disappeared.

Werecockroach was part of an attempt to reverse that, by finding an idea that could be marketed as own voices with an identity that got enough attention to be noticed (there are various aspects in the novella, but it’s the asexual lead that gets attention). It’s not really that this is better than my other work, but that it had hooks to promote.

Which comes to the end of the year, where there was a discussion about optimistic fiction and hopepunk. I can see all the ways my books don’t fit it and that my life experiences don’t fit. Back when it was a few people discussing it as a few books, this didn’t matter much, because no book fits all genres. The problem is the shift towards the idea of it being an overall approach to writing stories of any genre and one that people ought to be doing instead of other approaches. I can see this becoming another own voices. Basically, something promoted as being to benefit marginalised authors, but acting as an additional obstacle for those who produce work that doesn’t fit.

The basic problem is that things that can look like good ideas in basic concept, be it marginalised people talking about their own experiences or lighter stories for dark times, can turn into movements which are a bad idea.

In other words, I have concerns about the goalposts changing and having to start at zero again with new work that fits the new criteria. I’m a slow writer, so it’s difficult for me to keep up with this sort of shift. My hope is that the novella will have enough of a boost to keep selling even if the landscape changes, but it could be an issue for whatever I write next.

 

Short Stories

The year went well in terms of reprints. The first was in Transcendent 3, an anthology of trans and intersex stories edited by Bogi Takács. My story “Hello, World!” is about an AI taking fish to Mars. The idea behind the story was that learning AI is not neutral, but is informed by the training process and data sets. In this case, the people in the lab. So it’s not as obviously a story on the theme at first, until starting to think about who worked in that lab. This is also the first Patreon story that’s sold as a reprint.

The second was the Japanese translation of the Fungi anthology edited by Orrin Grey and Silvia Moreno-Garcia. “Letters to a Fungus” is exactly what the story title suggests.

Two book covers

Image Caption: Two paperback books on a white and silver cloth. One is Transcendent 3, which has a person wearing floral clothing scrubbing a brain with a sponge. The other is the Japanese translation of Fungi, which has a black cover with a gold/black flying mushroom machine with gears and tentacles.

I also did my own little reprint of “Letters to a Fungus” in Second Life for Hallowe’en. It was arranged as a hunt, with each letter spread around an area. The most found letter was clicked 95 times and the least found was clicked 34 times.

Trying to finish original fiction was more of a struggle. The stories I’d intended for Patreon didn’t get done, because I wasn’t writing at all once the heat came. Later in the year, there were two short stories deadlines I was trying to reach. One was for an anthology that hasn’t been announced yet. The other was a general public submissions call. I missed both deadlines, as I was trying to get back into writing at the same time as catching up with everything else, and sorting family things for the winter.

It wasn’t the end of the world, because I do have some second chances. The unannounced project will have a public submissions call. It didn’t stop it being pretty demoralising, as I missed the chance of being involved at the earlier stages. But for the second deadline, I got an extension, and did manage to hit that. I felt a lot better after hitting the extension deadline, particularly as I wasn’t the only one who needed an extension. It’s easy to think that no one else is struggling if no one is being open about it, which is also part of why I write about the things I failed to do as well as the things that worked.

 

Reviews

Reviews stopped early in the summer. I do have notes I took before the heatwave and will get back into it. Interestingly, I still earnt money from the affiliate schemes, so the pause hasn’t been terrible. I can simply continue from where I left off as though nothing happened.

 

Art

Zazzle continues to be the main place where my art sells. My sales have gone up more than is proportional compared to the number of products I offer. About double the products has meant about four times the sales.

There were no calamities this year and it’s something that continues to make money even when I’m not around.

 

Patreon

This time last year, I’d sent out art cards for Patreon. This has been delayed this year, so I don’t have the final art to show. The cards will be arriving sometime in January.

I’ve also taken advantage of Patreon’s new system, where rewards can be restricted to a certain tier. I now have a “tank friends” tier, where I’ll post pictures and updates about my pets. This acts as a way for people with phobias, or who just don’t want pet pictures, to avoid this content.

Patrons received an advanced copy of the novella this year and the art cards that will be arriving soon.

 

Wing Chun

I don’t usually include Wing Chun in my updates, as mostly I keep getting better at hitting people, so there’s not much to say. I did lose time this year, as I wasn’t able to get to training as often as I wanted. However, I did finally move from the beginner grades to the intermediate grades. I’d had issues learning how to fall without hitting my head, which slowed down my process. But I finally got it and can now be rugby tackled to the ground without knocking myself out, so there was much rejoicing.

 

Brexit and Future Goals

I can’t really talk about goals for next year without discussing Brexit. The UK leaving the EU could mean food shortages, medicine shortages, airports closing for months, loss of internet access, loss of power, and generally a lot of things that are going to make basic survival a lot harder. Family and friends on daily medication could die. There’s no way to make this sound better, because it’s not going to be good.

This has already had an impact, because during my attempts at catching up in the winter, everything has been falling apart politically. This was the last thing I needed when I was already behind. It will continue to have an impact, because survival is going to come first. Next year will mean stockpiling supplies and an uncertain future.

I do have plans for the year still. I’m hoping to publish Conduit, the sequel to my urban fantasy Sunstruck. It’s just this is going to be later than I’d hoped at the end of last year, because realistically, basic survival is going to come first.

This means I can’t say what will happen. I might still be online and able to keep people updated. I might not. I just don’t know, so I hope people will have a little patience, as this situation is out of my control.

 

Animals

For about four years, I’ve held off getting more animals, or really sorting my bedroom, because I was saving up for a fish tank. It hasn’t been the easiest time. I really like having animals. It’s a comfortable thing to look after them and watch them grow. It makes my room a space I can go when I need a break. But everything was on hold, because fish tanks are expensive. I stuck with looking after the hissing cockroaches I had and maintaining my little tank with three otos.

My family helped out with that this year and I got a new community tank. The old otos were moved into it and I’ve since added zebra danios and more otos. Zebra danios are my favourite aquarium fish, so it’s great to have some again. The old little tank is now the quarantine tank. My tanks are all run as temperate tanks without heaters, and the fish choices are ones that prefer the cooler side of things (even though they’re usually sold as tropicals).

This also opened up the way for sorting the furniture in the room (I have a couple of new garage storage shelves… they’re cheap, strong, and have big shelves) and getting some more animals (mainly woodlice and millipedes).

Family also agreed to tarantulas, which has also been a process that’s taken a few years, as it involved persuading the resident arachnophobe that a spider tank in my room would not emit spiderness. In the end, it went quite smoothly, as it turned out the one thing worse than spiders was wrapping presents. So it went, “Can you wrap these for me?” “I guess so, but in return I’m getting a tarantula.” Then later, “Can you post these for me now you’ve wrapped them?” “I think we’re moving into paying for the tarantula here.”

A few days later, I was told that Boris was a good name for a spider, so I think a level of tolerance has been reached. A spider (Grammostola pulchripes) and a scorpion (Euscorpius carpathicus) were ordered and have now arrived, as this end of year post is a bit into the next year. I asked for the spiderling pot to be marked with “Boris” to help start the warm fuzzy feelings, so thanks to The Spider Shop for doing that!

A plastic spiderling pot

Image Caption: A small clear pot with white tissue inside. “Boris” is handwritten on the outside along with part of the scientific name.

Out of everything this year, I really like how the room is shaping up. It’s already a much better space for me to relax. Once the air conditioning goes in next year, it’ll be ideal. It’s a lot like living in a cool temperate forest, which suits me perfectly. My plans for the year include adding in some low light plants, as well as continuing to stock the community tank and getting a few more invertebrates.

Also, don’t panic about the critters and Brexit, because I can find food for them locally and excess from my colonies will be food for the predators, so they’re not going to starve. The planting in the fish tanks will act as a filter if the power goes out. They’re in a much better spot than the people in the house.

 

Wrapping It Up

I lost a lot of time this year to heat, though hope to sort it out next year with an air conditioner. Catching up with everything from the lost time has been a struggle and there are going to be tough times ahead with Brexit.

My biggest success was publishing my novella Werecockroach. I’ve also been sorting my animal room. The second book in my urban fantasy series, Conduit, is expected out sometime next year, though when will be hard to say due to the political disruptions.

Letters to a Fungus Hunt (Second Life)

Image reads: Letters to a Fungus | A Spooky Story Hunt | Ends 10th November 2018It’s that time of year when things get spooky and people decide that bright orange is a great colour after all. The sim I live on in Second Life, Aquila III, has experienced an eldritch fungi invasion (it wasn’t me, honestly). In honour of this, I’ve put together a little story hunt. Ten letters are hidden around the area, with a few fungal prizes.

For anyone who wants to get straight to it, the slurl to the starting point and instructions is below:

Aquila III Fungus Hunt

For anyone still here, I’ll ramble a bit about what’s going on. The story is one that was published in 2012 in the Fungi anthology. “Letters to a Fungus” is exactly what it says: letters written to a fungus. I thought it’d be a fun story to turn into a hunt, as well as being an interesting way of telling the story. Each letter could be found in any order, meaning that it won’t be quite the same story to everyone reading it. The letters are also short, which is ideal for Second Life (no one really wants to read a novel in the form of Second Life notecards).

I created some new mushrooms for the event, including the orange glowing ones that mark the letter envelopes. These are prizes included with some of the letters. Finding the final letter also gives a new Shroomie (one of my tiny mushroom avatars).

The mushrooms hunt item

Image Caption: Three mushrooms are in darkness. The gills glow bright orange and the rest of the mushroom is dark. A stained envelope rest against one of the mushroom stalks and has “Dear Fungus” written in handwriting. This is the hunt item that people have to find.

The sim has been decorated, so I suggest using the region settings. It’s currently dark and a bit foggy, which is the best for finding the glowing hunt items. You can also explore and see what has befallen the non-fungal residents of the sim.

The event ends on 10th November 2018, when it’s predicted that the mushrooms will leave and the daylight will return. I hope you enjoy the story!

Whimsical Woodlice (Porcellio laevis)

I bought woodlice on a whim, as you do. This wasn’t quite as random as it sounds, as I do know the basics of looking after them, I already had the stuff to set up a basic tank, and I was thinking of maybe getting some millipedes. But instead, I ended up with woodlice. They have the advantage of being small, so it doesn’t take much space to have a colony.

They’re Porcellio laevis, the swift woodlouse (named because they tend to run pretty fast when things are bad… they’re not ball rollers). They’re Porcellio laevis “Dairy Cow”, a colour/pattern morph kept in the pet trade. They’re mainly white with patches of dark grey, in contrast to the plain grey of most wild ones. I ordered six and ended up with seven. But that’s jumping ahead…

The first step was sorting out a tank. Woodlice need a humid environment, so it’s better to have a tank with less ventilation. Almost all of my tanks are the style with well-ventilated plastic lids. It’s debatable how much ventilation, but I didn’t want to go too low. Very low, such as just drilling a couple of holes, can run risks if fungi or bacteria get going. They’ll use up all the oxygen and the woodlice will suffocate. But my current lid was clearly too much the other way.

I used aquarium sealant to put some net curtain material on the underside of the lid (this is to discourage flies from getting into the tank). I made it bigger than I thought I needed, so I could adjust things with the next step. Then I covered the top with cling film, leaving two holes of about two inches square over the net curtain area.

Tank top

Image Caption: A view of the top of the tank. It’s a blue plastic mesh lid with a clear feeding hatch. Cling film covers most of the top. Two square areas are uncovered on each side, to provide ventilation.

I had some organic compost lying around, so used that to make a layer of two to three inches. Then I covered it with leaf litter and old wood (I baked this before use). I drilled some holes in half a coconut and buried it slightly, so it would be a hide. At the last minute, I remembered I had a cuttlefish bone, so I threw a piece in as a calcium source.

A woodlice tank

Image Caption: A view of the inside of the tank seen from above. Dark compost is covered in dead leaves and old wood. A coconut with two holes drilled is buried to the right side. The right side also has water droplets and a few pieces of vegetable (sweet potato, mushroom stalk and cucumber). On the left side, there is a white piece of cuttlefish bone, and there’s no water.

Then the exciting part: the woodlice arrived. I moved them out into a glass pot, so I could check they were fine and take a quick photograph. As they might be breeding, I wanted a record of my founders. The transfer went smoothly and they soon found hiding places.

I did put a thin layer of Vaseline around the top of the tank, to discourage climbing. I’d heard conflicting reports about whether they could climb glass/plastic or not. As it turns out, this species really can’t. They were unable to climb the sides of the plastic pot they came in or the glass pot I used to transfer them.

Seven woodlice

Image Caption: A collage of the seven woodlice, with some dead leaves, soil, and white kitchen roll in view. The woodlice are white with dark grey patches, especially near the edges of their body and in a line down the centre of the body. Some are a little brownish near the front, though others are more pure white. Each one has a unique spot pattern.

I’ve been spraying one side of the tank only, near the coconut, to give them a moisture gradient. I sprayed the first few days, but I think the humidity is about where it needs to be now. I’m aiming to spray once or twice a week. If that doesn’t work, I’ll close the holes down a bit, but it looks like it’s about right at the moment.

It was a tad hot the first few days, though I did see them sometimes at night. Today was a little cooler, meaning that I saw six of the seven out at once. The cuttlefish bone and algae wafers are the current favourite foods. Now, it’s just about waiting for baby woodlice to appear.

The Terrible Trio of Nymphs

It’s baby cockroach time! I don’t breed my hissing cockroaches, so sometimes it’s time for some new ones. I ordered two and got an extra free. All of my cockroaches have come from Virginia Cheeseman. They’re always well-packaged and healthy, and I like being able to choose the general age (a lot of places only sell mixed tubs, which isn’t suitable for non-breeding pets). I also bought some woodlice this time, but that’s a tale for later.

The first nymph has a slight kink in their antennae, but this shouldn’t cause them any issues. They’ll also get new ones when they moult.

They’re one of those rarer few who like water enough to wade in it. Most of the cockroaches avoid going in the water at all, but I have had a small number before who will go in on purpose. They’ll only do that when it’s shallow enough that they can hold their abdomen over the water. This can also be filed under why I don’t worry about having open water bowls, because hissers are smart about water. I do use stepped reptile bowls, so they can easily climb in and out.

A hissing cockroach nymph

Image Caption: A top view of a hissing cockroach nymph in a clear plastic tank. They’re brown with some white at the edges of the abdomen segments. One antenna has a noticeable kink in it.

The second nymph has been pretty average in behaviour and looks so far. They’ve spent most of their time in their egg box.

A hissing cockroach nymph on cardboard

Image Caption: A hissing cockroach nymph on a yellow cardboard egg box. They look very similar to the previous nymph, but have more white on the top of their legs and straight antennae.

And the third escaped. I always open packages over an empty tank, so that any escapees will just end up in the tank. This one had other plans. They jumped from the pot to my arm, then jumped to the tank wall, then went over the top. This is like being the jumping spider of cockroaches. Most just try to crawl out, rather than setting up a multi-point jump to get out. They’re not good jumpers, as they tend to make a rush for it and hope the momentum carries them, but it was enough to get out in this case.

Inside a set of drawers

Image Caption: A view inside a set of drawers, with the drawers removed. A plastic tank, egg box, and kitchen roll, have been placed on the floor in the space. An envelope leans up against the wooden board at the back of the space, making it harder for a cockroach to climb out that way. A green arrow points to the corner of the space, where a cockroach nymph is hiding.

Before I could grab them, they climbed under the shelves under my bed. Fortunately, there’s a backing bit to the shelves, so they stopped at that point. I managed to coax them onto some kitchen roll and then got them in a tank.

A dusty hissing cockroach nymph

Image Caption: The escapee cockroach nymph in a plastic tank. They look much like their companions, apart from a layer of dust from running around under the drawers. The edge of an egg box is in view. Through the tank sides, two other plastic tanks can be seen.

Excitement aside, all the nymphs are doing well. They’ve all been drinking water directly, which isn’t a surprise given the heat. I noted before that I have a lot of nymph pictures, but not as many of adults, so I will try to be better about photographing them when they’re older. They’ll most likely be a solid dark brown, as the white markings don’t last to adulthood.

I haven’t named them yet. Suggestions are welcome!

All the Stars Left Behind – Ashley Graham

Stars CoverFirst Published: 6th June, 2017
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction / Novel
Available: Amazon.com | Amazon UK

Leda moves to Norway after her father’s death. Roar is an alien looking for a weapon to stop the destruction of his world.

Aliens in this setting are basically human. There’s a reference to humans being “almost another species” compared to Aurelites (Roar’s people). So there are differences, but they’re not that huge. The only oddity is blood colour changes depending on where someone is born. It’s probably best not to worry about the science of that too closely.

The early part of the novel had some odd jumps and inconsistencies. My guess would be there were some heavy cuts in the beginning during editing and the rest wasn’t changed to match up, but it means it’s a little confusing at times. Things settle out when the space elements gets going.

The book has instalove, which is not really my thing. I did like that Leda and Roar have to consider life beyond instalove. I wasn’t so fond of the idea that sex is mandatory for relationships (this comes mainly from Leda). I also don’t like over-protective and controlling behaviour from love interests. Roar does this less often than some, but he still ends up climbing into her bed and hugging her without asking, not letting goes when she struggles, and it’s fine because that’s what she wants after all. This is scary, not romantic.

There’s a fair bit of representation in this book, but some of it is rocky. Early on, there’s a microaggression about a woman having shoulders that are too broad for a woman, which sets the tone. There are a lot of little things and some big things. I’ll discuss a few of them, but it’s not a complete list.

Leda has spina bifida and uses crutches. The good sides are that she isn’t magically cured when the alien stuff gets going and she can’t suddenly run around without crutches when the plot demands it. There is also a mention of having limited energy, such as walking without crutches for a short distance making it hard to walk at all. However, I wasn’t fond of her constant self-hatred. She’s internalised a lot ableism, which may well be realistic, but it is somewhat constant during the story. She wants people to see past her disability, as though it’s a negative thing that overlays the real person inside.

Leda appears to be non-white. She’s described as having light brown skin and black hair. Roar considers that she looks “Spanish-meets-Arabic”. So she’s likely someone who has ancestry that is not clear. I didn’t like that Roar considers her “beautiful in an exotic kind of way”. This is not a compliment. Worded another way, this is saying she’s pretty for someone of her race, not properly pretty like all the pale blondes.

Roar’s friend Petrus is mute and uses sign language. Both norsk tegnspråk and Aurelis’s sign language. It’s unclear how he became mute, though it’s implied that he hasn’t always been.

One of the characters is a trans boy. The reveal was through misgendering and deadnaming the character, which is repeated several times. Also, it avoided any issues that would be specific to Aurelites. Namely that males have living tattoos that develop at birth. There is a brief mention of the trans boy having tattoos, but it’s something I’d have expected to be much more of a big deal in this context.

Some of the supporting characters are either gay or bi/pan. There’s not a lot to say on that, as not a lot happened, but they’re there.

The central issue is that this book copies some tropes that are popular in mainstream books, without critically looking at those tropes. It’s great to have a more diverse cast, but not so great to copy harmful tropes relating to that diverse cast. It’s painful because a lot of these things were on the surface. They could have been sorted without changing the main plot. It did feel like the author was trying, but wasn’t able to get there.

All this aside, I thought the book was reasonable. It passed the time and there were some bits I liked. The concept of aliens hiding out in a remote part of Norway was an interesting idea. The space conflicts make it clear that there’s more going on. There’s the potential for a series tackling some colonial political issues. Note that the book does have an ending, but it’s written as though it is the first in a series rather than a true standalone.