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!

She Remembered Caterpillars

Game LogoDeveloper: jumpsuit entertainment
First Release: 17th January, 2017
Version Played: PC (Steam)
Available: Steam

A girl is determined to save her father from death using the power of fungi.

This is a puzzle game based on navigating little fungus people (gammies) to launch pads, so they can fly away. Getting there involves crossing caterpillar bridges and other obstacles. The gammies are marked by a colour and a shape, which dictates which obstacles they can cross. The design of the puzzles is clear. Using colours and shapes gives a backup for anyone who can’t use one or the other, which is helpful for colourblindness or not being able to see fine detail very well.

The difficulty of the puzzles increases slowly. New mechanics have a simple level to show how they work. However, the text instructions for how things work are sparse. This won’t be a problem for most players most of the time, but some players may need a little more guidance to get started.

Progress through the game is split into acts, which slowly take the player higher up a structure. Each act has a distinctive art theme, which reflects the feel of the story at that point. I loved the style of the art. It’s hand drawn and whimsical, in a twisted fungal kind of way.

The story is told through text, which appears at the start of the levels and acts. It floats between memories of the girl and her father, and trying to save him using the gammies. Other uses of fungi are also hinted at, suggesting a world where fungal things are integral to everything. It’s a non-linear approach to storytelling that I see more often in short stories than games, and it fits very well here.

Gammies fly away

Image Caption: A raised structure of pathways is surrounded by mist. The structure has an organic feel in muted earth tones. Bright caterpillar bridges in blue (with circles), red (with squares) and purple (with Ds) join the sections. Three gammies fly helicopter-style from fungal launch pads. This is what happens on finishing a level. The gammies are little fungus people with faces and colours/shapes to match the bridges.

The progression of the art and story was balance well through the acts. The puzzles were mostly spaced well, as each act introduces a few new things. The exception was act seven, which saw a change in scenery, but no new mechanics. This was the weakest act for me, as the gameplay felt like it was staying on a level rather than advancing. That’s not a strong criticism though, as mainly I felt the game kept things fresh with new gameplay elements.

I enjoyed the game and would recommend it. The shape and colour concept of the puzzles was interesting, and it was very relaxed as there was no time limit. The art and story were great. Everything combined together to create something unique. It took me around five hours to complete the puzzles, but could take more or less time depending on skill. Though this is generally a cute game, note that the story does involve death and medical procedures. Lame is used as an insult at one point.

[A copy of this game was received from the developer for review purposes]

Crowdfunding Arrivals: Mewshrooms and Vampires

I have been known to support crowdfunding campaigns, which means I sometimes get shiny things. Or very fungusy things. Here are my crowdfunding rewards crops for the season.

First is the mewshroom by Stitchmind (Andrew E. Yang). The mewshroom is a mushroom cat toy, who quickly settled in helping with the decorations.

Mushroom cat toy with tinsel

Image Caption: A cuddly toy mushroom cat. The cat has a large red head with embroidered white spots, a white body, frill just under the cap, and a fluffy ball on the end of its tail. The mewshroom is playing with tinsel on a festive plaid backdrop (red and green with gold strands).

Mushroom cat toy with snowflake ornament

Image Caption: Mewshroom faces forwards, showing two dark eyes and an embroidered nose. It stands on a sparkly snowflake ornament.

I backed the campaign at the level for just the toy, though also got a sticker and badge thrown in. The fur is soft and it does stand up despite the huge cap. They come in other colours, but I went with traditional red. Stitchmind has a website where the toys are on sale, and a Zazzle store with related merchandise.

Second is an ebook of Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This is a vampire novel set in Mexico City. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ll review it when I do. Tinsel probably doesn’t say horror and vampires, but it has some black in it so I’m sure that counts. I own a lot of tinsel.

Silvia has a website with more about her writing, and the book is for sale on Amazon.

Book cover on an iPad with tinsel around it

Image Caption: An iPad on a background of silver/black tinsel and cloth. The screen shows the cover of Certain Dark Things: a face in black and white, with fire and red patterns overlaid. The iPad camera is covered by a sparkly mushroom sticker.

Fungi Anthology Available

Fungi CoverThe Fungi anthology by Innsmouth Free Press is now out (the official release date is 1st December, 2012). It has a mushroom person on the cover! You can’t get much more shiny than that. When my contributor’s copy arrives, I’ll put it on the shelf and admire the mushroomness.

But back on the word part. My story is called Letters to a Fungus, and is a bunch of letters written to a fungus. Admittedly, I don’t get any elaborate title points for that one*. It’s also my first published story about fungi, which is funny considering how much I like them.

The basic inspiration was giant fungi, such as the one discovered in Oregon. People tend to assume the mushroom is the fungus, but a lot of the mushrooms in an area may be produced by a single fungus (much as a bush may have lots of berries, but it’s still a single bush). As fun as mushrooms can be, we shouldn’t ever forget the real body of the fungus is out of sight, and might not be what we expect.

The Fungi website has a short piece on why they picked my story, and my answer to, “Why write about fungi?” (Though I’ll note I’m not a gigantic mushroom with a laptop**.) The Innsmouth website has a page with purchase information, including links to online shops and the option to buy directly from the publisher.

There’s also a Goodreads giveaway going on, ending on December 31, 2012. It’s open to people in the US, Canada, UK and Australia. You can add the book to your to-read list, or review it, from the Goodreads pages: hardback, paperback and Kindle versions.

That’s all the linkage. If you get hold of a copy, I hope you enjoy it!

* If it’d been a series of limericks written to a cat, and been called Letters to a Fungus, I could call it surrealism. But as it is, it’s one of those stories where people will ask, “What’s it about?” because they don’t entirely believe it really is a series of letters to a fungus. Maybe they’ve never written to a fungus. Some people are anti-fungal like that.

** I’m actually a tiny mushroom with a desktop.

# The art is by Oliver Wetter.