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!

2017: Survival

Happy StarIt’s the end of a difficult year, which looks set to become many difficult years. There’s been a lot of bad stuff going on politically. Some of it impacts me directly. Other things impact friends. That made it difficult to work, because anytime I did, something else would go wrong. That doesn’t mean that I did nothing during the year, but it does mean I focused on things I was able to do without having complete focus.

Last year, I was looking at diversifying where I made money. This didn’t really work out, in the sense of the new things I tried didn’t generate money. I did see success in expanding some of the things that were already working. I’ll talk about that in detail, as well as a bit of background about some of my choices going forward. The quick summary version will be at the end, for those who don’t need the nitty gritty details.

A piece of good news from this year is I now have a set of softboxes. These are lights for photography. Lighting has been a constant issue with my photography, as can be seen by the lighting issues in the various photos I’ve posted over the years (including the ones in this post, which were before I got the lights). The lights will be particularly useful for photographing larger art pieces.

 

Writing

Writing was the area that suffered the most this year, as I need to be settled and able to concentrate to get things done. This is especially true for final edits. I had intended to publish Werecockroach, my science fantasy novella. But the struggle with the final editing meant it never quite got there.

The second book in my novel series, Conduit, had a much better fate. I wrote quite a bit and sorted some timeline issues. Knowing that next year will be tough, I don’t want to be overly optimistic on release dates. I’m going to say it will most likely be released at the end of 2018 or the start of 2019.

This means not a lot has changed since last year. I do intend to stick to a basic cycle of one standalone (either novella or novel) and one series book. My hope is that going for unusual concepts for the standalones might get people talking about them. In other words, I hope the gimmick makes people look. I don’t have a lot of hope for the current series, but I would like to have it fairly robust with a few books before moving on to a more marketable series.

I did release a few new short stories on my Patreon, which is part of writing for the next collection. I don’t have a pending date on that, as it’ll happen when I have enough stories.

 

Art On Demand

I have art stores on Zazzle and Society6. Towards the end of the year, I had my first and only sale on Society6. I’ll still maintain that store, but it’s really all about Zazzle when it comes to actually making money.

My aim for Zazzle was to reach a thousand products by the end of the year, which I hit sometime in autumn. Each design is on between ten to forty different products. I have seen results from this, with my sales going up overall. I was paid before the holidays and will be paid again in January. I expect quieter times at the beginning of the year, as people recover from holiday purchasing, but I’m generally optimistic about sales.

I also tried out Zazzle’s embroidery system. This takes some investment, as the initial stitch files cost money (someone has to convert the image into stitches for the embroidery machine). I had one success and one failure. My blue jay design made a nice stitch file. I did edit it a bit before submitting it, to remove some of the fine detail, and it converted just fine. I sold a few things with it on, which paid back the stitch file cost. I’d likely have sold more, but Zazzle halted embroidery product sales for a short time due to the company moving to new premises.

Blue Jay Stitch Preview

Image Caption: A preview of a stitch file, showing the stitch placement of an embroidered blue jay perched on a green vine.

The failure was my pixel art mushroom. The resulting design had smooth lines, so didn’t resemble the original at all. The money was refunded, so nothing lost. Once embroidery production is running again, I’ll likely convert a smooth-lined cartoon mushroom design.

Until the end of December, I was feeling stable about how things were going. Then the takedown notices started. The first was because I had textspeak that included u2 (as in “you too”) as part of the message. The concern was that it might look like merchandise for U2 the band. It’s over-cautious, but I could see they might be playing it safe. I deleted the couple of products with it on and went on with things. Then on Christmas, one of my pixel mushroom products was taken down for copyright/trademark infringement. This is an original design and has been picking up sales, so this was much more of a concern. I responded. A few days later the product was put back.

I’ll never know exactly what happened. I know some people do targeted reporting around holidays to attack people, so it’s possible that happened. It does have a feeling of someone mass reporting everything to see what would stick, especially with the timing. Needless to say, that was all pretty stressful, but I’m glad the pixel mushroom is back.

 

Reviews

Reviewing has stayed about the same this year. Views have gone up a bit. I’m seeing more review requests coming in, which is a good sign that the blog getting some wider attention. The money earnt from Amazon Associates is about the same.

What hasn’t been so good is the mainstream book problem. I picked a fair few mainstream books when requesting thing to review. This has logical reasons behind it, as these books are the ones that initially get people to the blog. I also found I could link up these books with smaller titles by running themed Twitter threads of reviews. This raised the views on reviews of those smaller titles.

All of that is fine, but the chances of disliking those mainstream books was a lot higher. Such books are often good at that one area that matches the author’s identity, but offers plenty of punches to the face to everyone else. The sort of work I’m really hoping for, with a wider intersectional perspective, is difficult to get in those big titles with all the hype.

It doesn’t help that books that get hyped in the online book communities often get aggressively defended. I’ve mostly got away with it because my reviews are often a bit after the release date, so things have calmed a little, but I won’t stay lucky forever (I’d note that this sort of attack is still peanuts to the whole death threat thing of my old blog content, but I’d still rather not have the drama). It means I’ve learnt to pay attention to some other book bloggers in the worst possible way: if they love a book, it’s one to avoid reviewing.

There’s a silver lining to all this though, because those popular mainstream titles continue to get views long after the initial review. So next year, I’m going to take a bit of a break from popular books, and rely on the views from my older reviews. I’ll continue reviewing titles that I’ve already agreed to review. Anything new I pick up will be titles I’ve chosen and titles that come through authors sending review requests. I’ll make exceptions for something on the hype train that looks totally my thing, but the odds of that are pretty low.

I’m open to suggestions of books that people think I’d enjoy and they’d like to see reviewed. I did a book bingo of things I’d like to see in representation, and I’d mostly like science fiction and fantasy where romance isn’t the main focus. Basically, it’d be nice if I could have a year where reading is fun.

 

Patreon

Patreon has continued at about the same level as before. I’m now a few pledges above my website bill, so there’s a little more safety. Until the end of the year approached, I’d have said it was stable. Then there was a sudden announcement of fee changes that would have forced a lot of my patrons out. Patreon did change it back, but it meant uncertainty about whether it would continue to be viable. It’s still possible some people will leave, due to losing trust in the platform.

This is my least favourite way of generating money, because producing masses of content each month is considered normal for the platform. I can’t work that quickly, especially when it comes to writing. Being dyslexic does slow me down, but it happens in a way that isn’t obvious to outsiders. They see that I can write fluently, so assume it isn’t like trying to float rocks with the power of my mind to get my writing to that state.

I did try some ideas this year to counter that. One was a few work-in-progress posts. These didn’t generate any interest, so I don’t intend to do more of those (they still take time to put together, which I could spend on other things). Another was to make a special reward for the end of the year, which was generally well-received. I painted a series of art cards and sent one to each patron. Given that I had seven patrons at the time, this sort of personal reward was viable to do (I wouldn’t be painting up a hundred individual art cards).

Patreon Art Cards

Image Caption: A set of art cards for Patreon, displayed on a white cloth with silver spots. The series has a central figure drawn in black ink. The figure is red with uneven white polka dots, painted with red watercolour. The background is white with red polka dots. The subjects are: a squid, a unicorn, an owl, an elephant, a leopard danio fish, oyster mushrooms, and a fly agaric mushroom. Click for a larger version of the image.

My general conclusion is that Patreon is not a good platform for me. I’m better at producing occasional big rewards, rather than multiple smaller rewards. My regular content is my reviews, but few people see the reviews as a reward. However, I don’t have a better alternative, so here I am.

 

Other Things

One thing I tried last year was a new wishlist. This went about as well as last time: only family bought things from the list. I removed most of the links to it, on the basis that a static wishlist is a lot like a news section that never updates. It creates the impression of being inactive. I know wishlists work well for some reviewers, as a way to get books that otherwise can’t be requested. It didn’t work out for me.

The list is still there and public, so I have it should there be a need for it sometime.

I’ve tried to keep my Twitter account on the light side this year. I figured people would see the news, so they didn’t need me to be the news. I posted my baking from Hallowe’en and the winter holidays, along with updates about the birds and pets.

 

Skip to the End

It’s been a difficult year for writing, as I need a calm environment to work on it. The novella Werecockroach will be out next year. The second book of the Bigfoot Mysteries, Conduit, is aimed for the end of 2018 / start of 2019. It was a good year for art, with my sales at Zazzle increasing. Patreon is about the same and I gave art cards to my patrons at the end of the year. I had a scare with both Patreon (with sudden fee change announcements) and Zazzle (multiple product takedowns), which demonstrates why I’m always looking for other sources of income to add to the mix.

Polenth’s Dream Rep Bingo

The #dreamrepbingo challenge is to make a bingo card with things we personally want to see in book representation. This isn’t a list of things that are the least represented overall or anything like that. It’s my personal bingo, for things I’ve looked for and rarely found.

My bingo is a different format to a lot of book bingos, because this is the form I grew up playing. I’m probably going to use this more as a reminder of things to include when I write, rather than read, because for some I don’t know any work that isn’t something I wrote. It wouldn’t work very well as a reading challenge for that reason. But if you manage to fill all the squares you will win the eternal prize of knowing you’ve read a lot of really obscure stories.

Here is the card. Click on it for a bigger version. The description below explains each square in text for those who can’t see the image, as well as providing some expanded thoughts on the choices.

Image Caption: A bingo card with three rows and nine columns. There are five content squares randomly placed in each row, which list an item of book representation. The other squares are plain blocks of colour. Each column is one rainbow colour: the text and plain blocks in that column are that colour. It starts at violet on the left and goes through to red on the right.

Bingo Items List:

  1. Tinnitus from birth with hidden hearing loss – It’s rare to see tinnitus at all, but it’s usually shown as coming from later accidents. This is a problem in medical literature as well, to the point I’ve met doctors who are amazed I’ve had tinnitus from birth. Hidden hearing loss can go with that: this is a type of hearing loss that doesn’t show up with standard tests, as it only shows in loud environments. A lot of doctors haven’t heard of that either.
  2. Delayed sleep phase syndrome – The daily sleep cycle naturally drifts towards going to sleep in the early hours or morning, rather than at night. In short, this means being nocturnal, but not due to being a secret wereowl.
  3. Non-white character with uncertain ancestry – Not everyone knows their ancestry to the point of being able to list percentages. Uncertainty is not that uncommon in the real world, but somehow book characters know it all, unless they’re secretly descended from aliens/fairies (to be revealed by the end of the book). I’d like the character to be uncertain and stay that way without any tidy answers.
  4. Marginalised in five or more ways – All in the same character or it doesn’t count, because people act like even two marginalisations is pushing it and totally unrealistic.
  5. Multiply marginalised character is happy – Everyone is not dead, they have friends and family, and a fluffy pet kitten. Maybe they get what they want for a change.
  6. Dyslexic character can read/write well – Dyslexia is often revealed because a character cannot read or write at all, to the point where it’s really notable when this isn’t the case. This focus also ignores how things change during someone’s lifetime, as though all dyslexic people are locked in childhood. Teens and adults can have other things going on, such as difficulty with schedules and organising tasks, which rarely gets shown because authors are obsessed with small children reversing letters. I still reverse letters sometimes, but it’s really not the most noticeable part of being dyslexic these days.
  7. Ambidextrous character dithers on side choice – Often where an ambidextrous character is shown, it’s like a special superpower to not have a dominant side. So I’d like to see some of the un-superpowered realities of being ambidextrous, including the dithering that happens due to not having an automatic side for things. An example is being hit by a ball because it takes too long to decide which hand to use to catch the ball.
  8. Not feeling emotions is totally fine – Not feeling certain emotions (or any emotions) is often used to show characters as being inferior. If they gain them, they become more human, and therefore more worthy. If they don’t gain them, they’ll probably be the villain. Less of that. More people with different emotional experiences getting to be the hero with no attempt to change them.
  9. Human has phantom limb tail with no supernatural cause – This is me unless I’m secretly magical and don’t know it. I don’t mind the whole wish fulfilment thing of finding out you’re a werecreature and all that. I’ve written such stories too. But sometimes it’s nice to see these themes handled in a more realistic way.
  10. Non-humans with marginalised humans – I love stories with non-humans of various kinds, be they robots, aliens or strange critters from the deep ocean. But so often they’re used to replace marginalised people, rather than being written as their own thing. I also like seeing how marginalised non-humans and marginalised humans interact.
  11. Working class character is not the one good exception – It’s clear how middle class a lot of authors are by their handling of working class characters. You get the working class person with the heart of gold. But expect their community, and often their own family, to be the worst of working class stereotypes. Bonus hatred points if that one working class character gets to become middle or upper class by the end, due to their pure heart and hard work. It just reinforces the idea that most people are working class because they deserve it, and those who don’t deserve it will be elevated. Class structures are not fair, so I don’t want stories pretending they’re fair.
  12. Intersex character with no genital descriptions – There’s apparently no possible way to know someone is intersex without someone feeling up their genitals, seeing them naked in the shower, or other such things. Maybe instead of ever more creative ways to show genitals, someone could just say they’re intersex.
  13. Asexual character not placed in awkward sexual situations – It’s okay to have an asexual character say they’re asexual. It doesn’t have to be revealed by making them walk into the sexbot district and feel uncomfortable because everyone wants to have sex with them.
  14. Non-binary person is not misgendered – It’s like authors think if they have a non-binary person, someone has to misgender them and highlight their gender assigned at birth. This links to a trend where non-binary people are constantly referred to based on their assigned at birth genders (AMAB non-binary and AFAB non-binary, but never plain old non-binary). Some people are really uncomfortable if they can’t continue to split non-binary people into binary categories.
  15. Romani people aren’t inherently magical – I still remember that time I critiqued a piece and commented on the “gypsies” being shown as though they were inherently magical. The author replied that it was okay because she’d always considered them to be like magical fairy creatures and that was totally the vibe she wanted. There are a lot of other stereotypes, including even otherwise progressive spaces being happy to have the dark traveller as the shady criminal who attacks the pure blond main character, but the first step is to understand Romani people are not actually fairies. I’m starting small here.