Links and accomplishments, 7/26/15 to 8/1/15

I’ve decided to start keeping track of my weekly accomplishments, like my pal Phoebe does — she owes some of her incredible productivity to that metric, I fancy.

To temper it with something that’s not all about me me me (because no one but Phoebe wants to read that much about me), I’ll add some links to stuff I’ve found interesting throughout the week.



– Wrote 1796 new words on Lioness
– Submitted “Remember to Die” to DSF

– Signed up for Silverfire game 2, and got in!

– Finished watching season 7 of Psych (ugh. I hate the trope of “create conflict with a completely unlikeable character who makes the protagonists’ lives miserable.” I hated it in House, and I hate it here, with the Trout plotline).
– Watched the RiffTrax of Megaforce (the ascots! the uniforms!)
– Read “The Litany of Earth” by Ruthanna Emrys (highly recommended, as a subversion of the othering in HPL, overlaid on WWII paranoia)
– Finished the main quest in ESO with my character Falanu
– Listened to Writing Excuses 10.30, “Q&A on Middles with Marie Brennan”
– Listened to Happier with Gretchen Rubin ep. 22, “Creative Habits with guest Rosanne Cash”

– Cut out the paper pattern and selected material for the mockup of a second Ianthe underdress

– Made beet, toasted walnut, and bleu cheese salad


A lot of people have been talking about emotional labor lately — what it is, how it disproportionately falls to women, and what to do about that.

Surprising no one, I find this absolutely true and utterly fascinating. It reminds me of my recent post–I would argue, more eloquently today, that most of the things taking women away from creativity are emotional labor.

I’ve also realized that my defense of small talk, and its importance in human conversation, is a defense of emotional labor, too. Small talk is hard — it’s literally finding stuff to talk about with people you don’t know well enough to suggest topics of mutual interest — and many geeks (male geeks in particular) have never learned to do it.

(I’m currently reading the fabulous fantasy novel The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison, and it’s telling that the title character, having grown up in obscurity, never learned how to make small talk, and suffers for it when he rises to power. I consider this lack as great as his ignorance of the political current, and as narratively interesting).

Despite all this, I’m actually kind of rubbish at emotional labor myself, so many of the reminders about how are good for me, too.

On a lighter note, The Man’s Guide on How to Smell Better. Please, please, please take this to heart, oh nerd guys. It will improve your life to not smell like dirty laundry.

On my VPeep Beth T’s recommendation, I’ve been browsing 16th-17th century household guides — I thought I would find interesting stuff for Lioness in there. The Good Huswife’s Jewell is particularly intriguing. Mostly it has suggested terrible, wonderful things to put on the various Lucern tables we see. (Not lamprey pie, though. I’m leaving that all to GRRM).

My grandmother’s kitchen

Reheating my trashy frozen food like a boss

I don’t know what prompted me to write about this — maybe thinking about my love of so-called “trashy” foods, and how the foods we ate on my mother’s side of the family were emblematic of poverty.

The thing to know here is — I’m not kidding when I use the term “poverty.” My life has always been comfortable, but my mom’s was not. I spent loads of time growing up with my maternal grandmother and my aunt (my mother’s older sister); their lives were a lot better by the time I came around, but they were still poor, even by the standards of a poor part of the country.

We ate well, from a certain perspective. We never went hungry. But the foods I ate were… very different than what I ate in my own home, and very different than I suspect my peers were raised on.

To name just a few of the things we ate…

  • White bread, above all. At home I ate wheat, although in the 80s “wheat bread” was basically just white bread with caramel coloring.
  • Bologna. My grandmother lived on bologna sandwiches with mayo on white bread. I still remember the order she sent me into the corner grocery store all the time: a quarter-pound of garlic bologna.
  • Occasionally, if we got fancy, there was olive loaf. Or turkey (which my grandmother ate with butter. Yuck).
  • Speaking of processed meat products… Spam! Or Treet, or some off-brand thing. Looooooved pan-fried Spam sandwiches on English muffins. Still do.
  • there was, in fact, government cheese. Though I don’t think anyone actually liked it…
  • Cheese sandwiches (toasted or not) and grilled cheese were a thing, but always with American cheese singles, the kind with the consistency of the plastic they’re wrapped in.
  • Omelettes. Except my grandmother called them “cheese eggs,” and told me how she had learned to make them from my Uncle Sonny after he came back from the Navy.
  • For all this use of fake cheese, there was almost always real cheddar in the house, too. They just… didn’t put it in anything?
  • Tinned vegetables, never frozen, and rarely fresh. I remember complaining to my mom that the frozen peas we ate at home didn’t taste as good as the (salty, mushy) canned peas.
  • Canned soups. Still unironically love Campbell’s Cream of Celery.
  • Boiled eggs. It was also a treat to get pickled eggs when we went to bingo.
  • Always, always tea in the afternoon, which was Salada black tea served with sweetened condensed milk. I thought it was disgusting, at the time.
  • My grandmother perc’ed her coffee, which I’m told is also disgusting, tho I never tried it.
  • Boiled dinner – that very New England meal of bits of corned beef, cabbage, carrots, and potato.
  • Roast beef, which my grandmother would cook to the point of leatheriness
  • Frozen fish sticks
  • TV dinners
  • This disgusting macaroni soup with tomatoes and hamburger (always ground chuck, because it was cheap), which I disliked even then
  • Hamburgers (again, from ground chuck) and hot dogs
  • Apple crisp. Learned to make it from my aunt.
  • Always ice cream. Store-brand vanilla.
  • Popsicles
  • Strawberry shortcake when berries were in season, which they made by smashing up berries and putting it on those bright yellow cakes. With Cool Whip on top, of course.
  • In summer, there was raw rhubarb with salt
  • Nobody drank water as a beverage. Nobody. There was, as I said, tea and coffee. There was always Coke in the house. (My mother was a Pepsi drinker, though, and I take after her in that regard). There was “orange juice,” which was usually an artificially sweetened orange-like beverage like Sunny D. There was Kool-Aid in summer.
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Gravy from a mix
  • Pizza was too newfangled for my grandmother (this was not my Italian grandmother, mind), but there was occasionally frozen pizza, like Mama Celeste.
  • when all else failed, Burger King. My grandmother loooooved Burger King.
  • Or that regional treat, michigans.

What foods did you eat growing up? Are they similar or different from what you eat today?

I went to Readercon and all I got was this inferiority complex

Readercon 26 was this past weekend. It was a decidedly mixed bag for me.

On one hand, I got to see VP tribe! (Including some I hadn’t seen since the workshop itself, like Leigh Five). There were fascinating panels, as there always are. I met new, interesting people. I bought Sonya Taaffe’s book, at long last.

On the other hand, it turns out that hanging out with more attractive, successful writers for a long period of time is no good for one’s self-esteem, i.e. my Friday night. I ended up spending most of Saturday morning/afternoon recovering from this.

So I guess I’ll talk about the events I went to? I attended way fewer than normal, preferring to spend much of my con in the bar with VP folks.


I ate dinner at Seasons 52 with a group of VPeeps, after a failed attempt to get into Not Your Average Joe’s without a reservation.

I went to Chris Gerwel’s reading, which was practically required of me, since he is VP15 and now VP staff. (This is a lie; I missed a lot of VPeeps’ readings). He read from his unpublished novel, set in a Roman empire that has never fallen, ruled by an automaton emperor with all the memories of the original Caesar. Good stuff. I still remember the line “mortal Caesar bleeds memories.”

Afterwards I hit If Magic Was Always Real with panelists Karen Burnham, Lila Garrott, Max Gladstone, Romie Stott, and Walt Williams. This panel tackled the idea that, if magic has always been around (the premise in many urban fantasy-type books), why hasn’t it improved the world? I liked the idea of magic as privilege, which got me thinking about magic in the world of Lioness.

I ran into fellow larper Brian R briefly, who was checking out the free night of the con. He was headed to different panels than me, though, so I didn’t get to see him again. But Brian, I totally want to hear how it went!


I had to work, so I didn’t arrive on site until 6pm or so. Then, despite having panels I wanted to go to, I spent most of the evening hanging out in the bar, with an ever-varying group of VPeeps. I did get restless around 7pm, and stepped out to attend the end of How Intelligent Are We, Anyway? This panel really didn’t do anything for me; I mostly just sat on my hands, feeling bored and antsy.

However, the next panel I went to, Revealing the Past, Inspiring the Future was quite good — probably my favorite of the con. The panelists were Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone, Alena McNamara, Sarah Pinsker, and Julia Rios, and most of the conversation concerned interesting instances of women, POC, or LGBTQIA folks doing cool stuff in history — stories which tend to go unnoticed because they don’t fit the narrative of what these folks’ roles in history are. I learned about the “Elephant Girls,” a gang of young women in 1930s London; I had the book Makeisha in Time recommended to me.

After that I returned to the neverending bar party, which now included Elizabeth Bear, Amanda Downum and her fiance whose name I never caught, fellow VP17ers Arkady Martine and Beth T, VP16er Kellan/Kevin/sprrwhwk (who looks pretty good in a dress), and Alex, someone who I totally recognized solely from her Sabetha cosplay which I’d seen pics of on Bear’s and Scott Lynch’s Tumblrs. (I am neeeeeeeerd).

Most of them were dressed up for the dance party that night, and I felt very… inadequate beside them. It was also the sort of conversation where it was hard to get a word in edgewise, which basically just made me feel like an NPC in cooler people’s lives.

(I did have interesting side conversations with Alex about the magic of bound buttonholes, which I’m now convinced I need to try).

It got a little better when we went to the VP room party that Latasha and Leigh Five were holding. Uncle Jim and Doyle were there (they were staying in the adjoining room), and we heard stories of their working on the novelization of the terrible script for the terrible Prince Valiant movie. Uncle Jim did magic tricks for Beth and Conni and me; I had interesting conversations with ckd (who had somehow managed to infiltrate our party despite not being VP. INTERLOPER ;)).

Chris Gerwel was there, too, and he and Beth and I talked about the various disappointments of being a writer. (I felt somewhat better about my one novel with no nibbles from agents after hearing about Chris’ three novels in the same situation — including the Roman emperor automaton one we’d so enjoyed his reading from).

Most importantly, I put Doritos on a very drunk Kevin’s head.

I stayed sober throughout, and headed home around midnight, so it was not a very wild and crazy night for me at all. Still, it left me feeling maudlin, even into the next day. Realizing I’d lost my credit card, and waking up in the middle of the night with a coughing fit didn’t help.


I spent Saturday morning and part of the afternoon at home, reading (still working my way through Our Mutual Friend) and writing. Regarding the latter, I did a few word sprints and put down ~750 words on Lioness, which made me feel human again. I’ve still gotten waaaaay behind on Camp NaNo, but time remains to catch up.

I returned to the con just in time for the VP dinner, for which we returned to NYAJ, this time with a reservation. (I also found my credit card, just in time to pay for dinner). Seated near Kevin, Leigh, Beth, Laurence, Latasha, and Conni, we mostly discussed our current projects, and other folks (more up to date on their Hugo reading than I) got sucked into conversations about The Three-Body Problem and The Goblin Emperor.

Since apparently Readercon no longer has programming other than the Miscellany after 3pm on Saturday (!), after dinner we repaired to the gazebo and continued our partying there. And by partying, I mean “conversing,” because again: nerds. I talked to Beth and Laurence about historical smut, and to Kevin and Scott (Ali Wilgus’ husband) about video games, until mosquitos forced me inside. There, I chatted with VP… 9? 10? graduate Suzanne P, about my job as a front-end developer. I headed home before 10pm.


I returned just before noon to found Arkady and John chatting with a guy named Peter with a bunch of cool Middle Earth tattoos. (One of the many people I regret I did not give a business card to!) He was looking for recommendations on flintlock fantasy, since he was thinking of writing one of his own, so of course I had to mention the inestimable Django’s Shadow Campaigns series.

Arkady and John and I went to the BTAIQ: Writing the Lowercase Letters panel which focused on QUILTBAG folks that don’t normally get as much attention in fiction. Panelists were Kythryne Aisling, Amanda Downum, Sioban Krzywicki and Rachel Steiger-Meister; Delany was supposed to be there, but wasn’t. Since Lioness has characters of the B and T persuasion, this seemed relevant to my interests? Most of the conversation was focused on representations of trans characters, because the moderator identified that way. That was a little narrower of a focus than I was hoping for, but still interesting to listen to.

I think what this panel made me realize is that my fears about “writing the other,” to borrow the Nisi Shawl book title, have evolved. I think like most privileged people I used to be afraid that I would say something “offensive” and get called on it. Nowadays my worries are more that I’ll say something hurtful and that no one will tell me — just silently judge me.

I… think that’s a development? Except for the fact that I pretty much worry that people are silently judging me about all my failings.

(If I say something hurtful to you, or represent a character in a way that’s not authentic to your experience, please do tell me, if you feel up to it. I’ll try to make it right with minimal fuss).

After that panel, I went to A Visit from the Context Fairy with Kythryne Aisling again, Stacey Friedberg, Gwynne Garfinkle, Kate Nepveu, and Sonya Taaffe. The panel was about how the context in which one reads a book changes one’s opinion of it, and thus it tied into fascination with how different an experience re-reading is from reading.

Anyway, this was one of my favorite panels of the con. Kate Nepveu did a great job as moderator, allowing the panel to both accommodate audience points of view and yet stay on target. We discussed many of the factors that might influence one’s perception of a book, from life experience to supplemental reading to even the music one listens to. Sonya, who always has clever things to say about the intersection of memory and literature, talked about how she’s spent much of her life tracking down the references in The Last Unicorn, and how that has influenced her enjoyment of the book.

Over and over I kept thinking you can never read the same book twice. I wish that was a sentiment that had been expressed.

The panel did get off-track near the end, when one of the panelists brought up how evolving social mores can change one’s enjoyment of a book (i.e. all the racist caricatures which the author of Mary Poppins went back and removed from the book in later years), which led That One Person in the Audience to start talking about “political correctness” and “whitewashing,” but Nepveu managed to steer it back on course.

My ulterior motive in coming to the panel was to get Sonya’s book, Ghost Signs. And I succeeded, with an inscription: “There’s Wittgenstein in here!” Indeed; and even Lovecraft. I’m working through the book slowly, pausing and mulling over every poem. I feel so much more capable of appreciating them and taking them apart when I’m not staring at them on a computer screen. Poetry is really not suited to that medium, you know?

That was pretty much my con, aside from lunch and taking some folks to the Logan Express. Overall it had some rough patches, but I recovered from them and was ultimately glad I went.

The State of the Writing (July 2015)

I’ve set various writing goals this year, and this post is to check my progress on them, since it’s now about halfway through the year.

In January I said I wanted to do something writing-related every day — at least 50% of the days. It looks like my current percentage is 42%, after some rough months (March and April, for example). Thankfully, I’m out of larp season now, so I hope I can be more consistent.

Let’s look at my novel projects:

Gods and Fathers. I’ve revised my query so many bloody times now I’m not even sure what this book is about, but still no bites from agents. I’m tempted to trunk it (or self-pub it, since there’s at least some interest among my friends), but I also feel like I haven’t queried as many agents as I could. And I haven’t sent it directly to any publishers, certainly.

I think if I started this novel today, it’d be exceptionally different, and I’d handle certain cultural/ethnic concerns better. I don’t think it’s offensive or anything, but I suspect there are parts people could squint at and say, “Really?”

Maybe that’s the signal I should put it aside. I don’t know. I’m a terrible judge of my own writing.

Lioness Embarked, on the other hand, is going very well at the moment. I just passed 63k yesterday night. At the end of April I decided to participate in the Codex Novel Contest, setting a goal (roughly) of 10k words per month until the contest ends in December.

However, in May I logged only 3k words, and in June about 5k. (Thanks, larp season!) To try to get back on schedule, I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month. I have to write about ~700 words per day to make up for May and June’s missed words and get July’s done — a total of 21,600 words.

Of course, this is assuming a book of about 110k words, which may be more than I need. It may be less than I need, too, though, which is the concern.

So far, a week into the month, it’s been challenging, but I remain more or less on track! We’ll see it this can hold up through Readercon and the Shadows one-day, which are my big time-sucks this month.

Eventually I am going to need more alpha and/or beta readers. Right now I have my writing group, and EB, basically. These folks have valuable feedback, but I’d especially like some transfolk as readers, since there’s a character who identifies that way in this novel, and I worry I’m doin’ it wrong.

If you’re interested in trying on the role of alpha reader — reading as I produce pages — but aren’t sure if you can commit to 100k words of my deathless prose, let me know, and I’ll send you the first chapter. You can decide from there if you want to continue. I’ve been pitching this novel as “a fantasy genderqueer retelling of The Three Musketeers from the perspective of the series’ antagonists,” so if that sounds like your cuppa, let me know.

If you’re interested, but want to wait until the novel’s finished, let me know, too, although I’ll probably forget between now and then and ask again later 😉

Short Fiction

I just submitted “Powder of Sympathy” to Lackington’s for their Dreamings issue. This is the second place I’ve submitted it — it’s only a semipro market, but the theme fit, and the submission window was closing. Given pieces I know were rejected, I suspect I’m going to get the “how is this connected to theme?” rejection (because it requires somewhat of a careful reading to see).

This story is flawed. (Every story is flawed). But dammit, my Dunsanian imitation is pretty dang good, and I wish someone would appreciate it.

I had a few people read the flash pieces that came out of the Codex Weekend Warrior contest–“Remember to Die” and “Handedness.” The consensus seemed to be that “Remember to Die” was the stronger piece, and “Handedness” felt a little too derivative SF.

Given that, I decided to focus on “Remember to Die.” I’ve made some edits which I think strengthened the beginning, but probably botched the ending even worse. I need to take another pass at that, but I’d like to get it out to DSF this week.

Codex is doing its summer flash contest this month, but pretty much all the dates conflict with larp and fandom commitments.

I have three sad, half-finished short pieces in the world of Gods & Fathers and Lioness which I will not be focusing on any time soon. They’re the kind of things that are only interesting if you’ve read the novels, though, and I don’t think they can stand alone.

Other than that, the other short fiction I’ve written this year has been a couple of Fifth Gate ficlets and “The Little Dutch Boy,” the purposefully terribad historical smut I wrote for a burlesque show.


I’ve written a few poems since the start of the year, but still no idea what to do with them. Mostly I write poetry because I can’t not, rather than to do anything with it.

Executive summary

I’m behind on my goals. No surprise there. I need to have more reasonable expectations for larp season, it seems. On the up side, my year-over-year “doing something writing-related daily” percentage is up 6%.

I am still optimistic about finishing Lioness this year. I’m less optimistic about… well, everything else.

I still struggle with submitting my work. A lot. This topic has got me thinking about the “gates of writing,” the obstacles one has to overcome on the path to being a published writer. I’ll probably have a post on that in the future, but suffice it to say, that is the gate I am trying to pass through now.

My brain is getting fat on creepypasta

File this one under “random facts about Lise”: I really enjoy creepypasta, i.e.:

short horror fictions and urban legends mainly distributed through word of mouth via online message boards or e-mail.

As a general rule I’m not a huge consumer of horror. But there is something about supposedly-true stories of unexplained phenomena which make reality and shared human experience seem thin and fragile. It’s why I was simultaneously terrified and fascinated by the program Unsolved Mysteries when I was a kid.

This sort of horror — is there a name for it? — was epitomized for me by the Tell Me About Your Glitch in the Matrix thread on Reddit a few years ago, which still haunts me (I posted about it back then, too). It exposed me to what is probably my favorite creepypasta, involving my favorite game, Morrowind.

‘Tother night a random link on Facebook led me to an article on Thought Catalog about, basically, a haunted iPhone. It wasn’t a great story, and I’m not going to link to it because TC has some seriously annoying ads (bad enough I had to remove them from the DOM with Chrome dev tools, because they kept scrolling me back up to the same place on the page), but it reminded me that I’d seen stories like this on Reddit. And there, at least, I knew the ads were minimal.

Which is how I ended up on the NoSleep subreddit. I read the May 2015 contest winner, “The Oddkids,” which left me feeling decidedly meh. There were a few entertaining ones, but most of them lacked the surreality of the glitch thread.

(There’s also the whole thing where we are asked to suspend disbelief even while, externally, we know this is a subreddit for creepy fictional stories. That kind of threw me out of immersion).

But then I checked out “similar subreddits” and found that, lo and behold, an entire subreddit has spawned from the original thread: Glitch_. Which I stayed up Way Too Late Reading. It’s full of stories of lost time and found time and dopplegangers and crisis premonitions and Mandela effects and quantum suicides. There are some real duds (anything without about 50 votes I can safely ignore), but there are oodles of stories that give me the creeps.

Do I “believe” this stuff? Hard question to answer. I believe most of the posts are in earnest; that creepy things have happened and people want to share them. I am highly skeptical of most of the explanations (i.e. quantum bullshit). I am willing to read, and enjoy and fear that sensation that reality has thinned, and not think too much about explanations.

As for myself, I’ve had relatively few creepy experiences (I talk about a few in my 2012 post, though) and I’d like to keep it that way. I’ll pull back the veil on the world on my own terms, thanks.

Don’t Get Killed by Bees

… is probably a better name for Don’t Starve, at least as far as I’m concerned.


This was on deep discount in the Steam Summer Sale, so I picked it up (along with its DLC, Reign of Giants, though I haven’t played around with that yet). I’m enjoying the hell out of this game, and I’ve put in 30 hours just in the last week.

I’d describe Don’t Starve as a roguelike meets Minecraft. You play as gentleman scientist Wilson (or, once you’ve unlocked them, another W-named character), thrust into a savage wilderness by mastermind Maxwell. To survive, you gather stuff you find lying around — twigs and flint become an axe, and with an axe you can cut down trees; with logs and cut grass, you can make a fire. Over the fire you can cook the berries and carrots you’ve collected while logging, fulfilling the title’s imperative.

Eventually you’ll want a science machine (gold, rocks, and logs), which allows you to make stuff like backpacks and shovels. In my current game, which is the farthest I’ve gotten (40-ish days), I’ve built up to farms, lightning rods, crock pots, drying racks, beehives, and a birdcage with an egg-laying bird.

There is much, much more one can do, too — this is not particularly far, game-wise.

Speaking of which, there’s no end goal, at least in Sandbox mode; it’s just “survive as long as you can.” There’s an Adventure Mode, too, which sounds more like a campaign mode? But I haven’t done anything with it yet (though I do know where Maxwell’s Door is in my current game).

The art is sort of cartoony gothic, a la Edward Gorey or Tim Burton, and the general aesthetic is vaguely steampunk.

Some observations:

Nobody told me there was a sanity mechanic! I thought the brain represented, I dunno, intelligence? Brain power? Which is why sleeping made it go up, right? I didn’t realize the first time I was going crazy until shadow creatures were attacking me, and bunnies I trapped turned black and dropped beard hair or nightmare fuel instead of meat. Let us not speak of the fact that this was the game where I took to digging up graves, not realizing how much THAT lowers your sanity.

I have, in fact, starved a few times. Sometimes due to my own ignorance as to, say, how much Monster Meat it was safe to put in a crock pot — which I’m going to count as starvation-related. A large number of my deaths were spider or bee related, as the title of this post suggests. A few times, it was cold that got me — this is the first winter I’ve lived through. And sometimes, it was dumb stuff like letting the fire or the torch run out and not having a replacement ready before I was eaten by Charlie.

I was warned against pengulls, but I guess they’re non-aggressive? But the first time a flock of them jumped out of the sea at me, I nearly had a heart attack. I’ve taken to using them (or beefalo, or pigs) to fight hounds for me.

Let us not speak of the game where I burned down two entire forests before I learned what a safe distance between trees is when making charcoal. Wilson, on gazing upon this: “I feel I could have prevented this somehow.”

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the more beautiful the garden you cultivate in your base camp, the more likely it is to get struck my lightning and burnt down. Hence the lightning rod.

Beefalo in mating season + guardian pigs = ingredients for a Beefalo Hat That was last game. This game I just stuck two bunnies to my head and made Rabbit Earmuffs. Because that’s the sort of game this is. Also Wilson’s fabulous beard provides significant insulation!

I followed the tracks and found a Koalaphant!… forgetting that I needed something to freeze it in order to attack it. So now it just wanders around a meadow near my base camp, producing manure. It’s cute. Maybe I’ll leave it alone. At least until I need a Puffy Vest for next winter…

(Of course, I realize by writing about my current game I am doomed to imminent failure. That’s the way it’s always worked with me and roguelikes).

I’ve gotten Matt into this now, and he bought this with a deal that gave him two codes for Don’t Starve Together, the multiplayer version of the game. We have been so dedicated to our individual games that we haven’t tried out DST yet, but soon. Soon…

In parting, have some adorable Maxwell fanart that I came across on the Don’t Starve subreddit.

Also I need to get more sleep, to increase my sanity. IRL.

A view from the monster desk

Tentacle Monster Working

So Fair Escape is dying to know what it was like staffing “monster desk” for Cottington Woods. She wants to know:

What were the biggest challenges, the busiest moments, the last minute fixes? Methods used to keep track of stuff?… Did most stuff run much longer than expected? Most interesting modules to prep? Unexpected setbacks?

First, a definition: “monster desk” is what some larps call the person(s) responsible for keeping monster camp (i.e. the staff/cast headquarters) running. What exactly this involves varies from game to game, but I think it’s legit to say it involves tactical response to needs that arise in the game. They aren’t writing plot, and for the most part, they aren’t going on mods, but they are doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make sure the game keeps running — preferably on time.

Basically, it’s logistics.

In Cottington those urgent needs are often like “I need stats for a giant plant,” “can you print these tags?” or “can I look at the writeup for this mod?” In other games, monster desk might handle costuming, makeup, or NPC food.

I’ve also been in games that didn’t have monster desks — arguably it’s a role you don’t need someone to do permanently if the individual staff can do these things on a self-service basis. Shadows of Amun, for example, doesn’t have a monster desk, but there’s a printer if, say, you’ve realized you forgot to print something you need; and there’s usually at least one staff member in monster camp at all times.

But anyway. My first big responsibility for monster desk was something I took on myself. Cottington almost never has writeups (or tags, or stat cards) for mods printed out beforehand, which can cause significant delays when it comes time to run those mods. On hearing I was slotted to work the desk, I decided to at least handle the printing for Friday’s mods.

In particular, I wanted to get a headstart on the printing needs for the mod called “Alice Rescues the Cat,” which was a giant, all-town mod which would take up the entire early evening. Among the moving parts were pages of letters which the NPCs were going to give out as loot, seventeen trivia questions with a complex “lift a flap to reveal a letter” mechanic, tags for each of eight vision circles, tags for a few different gates, and tags for another seventeen or eighteen nodes of insight.

Printing this was a massive undertaking, and I’m SO GLAD I decided to do it beforehand — I can’t imagine printing all those tags at game. Assembling the tags then took even more work. I ended up arriving on site at around 6:30pm — late for me — and spending until 9pm assembling everything — cutting out the hundreds of letters, filing the mod writeups I’d printed out, and putting together the question tags. (Thanks to Gaylord and new larper Kristina, who helped with these). The truck with all the Monster Camp gear (including printers, scissors, tape, etc) arrived on the early side, which was helpful, as I desperately needed tape for assembling the question tags.

By the time I was done assembling, it was time to set up — well past it, in fact. It’s all kind of a blur in here, but basically my work at this junction involved getting the NPCs stats (a printing need I had neglected, requiring the printer to get set up before I could do anything), making sure all the equipment we needed went up to the mod space at the hangar (nightmare costumes, fairy costumes, rope lights, fog machine, speakers and iPods, etc), getting myself into costume (because I had not one, but two roles to play in this mod!), running up to the hangar (already late), and trying to follow Michelle (the plot writer’s) instructions to set the mod up.

Setup for this mod was the worst part of the evening. I was dehydrated, being eaten alive by mosquitos, and trying to figure out obscure instructions by flashlight.

A word on obscure instructions: When I had printed the tags, I remember having a moment of “oh, I have no idea how these are supposed to work… oh well, Michelle can tell me that.” In fact Michelle could not tell me, as she was busy playing her NPC Gwyndalyne and entertaining the PCs until we could get this mod rolling. This is often the case at this game — Michelle cannot bi-locate, and as the game owner often needs to be sixteen different places at once — and so I don’t know why I had the illusion that she would be there for setup. But that was the expectation I had, and nothing seems to trouble me more than rumpled expectations.

Did I mention it was raining? And that half of the battery-powered rope lights were not working? And that while I had a few able assistants (Alex P, Scott M, and Gaylord deserve massive kudos for the work they did), the majority of the NPCs were standing around in the hangar shooting the breeze? (To be fair, it’s what I’d be doing if I weren’t given a job, too. And I was far too busy to give more than a couple people jobs).

And the clock was ticking. We were already… an hour late? I was overwhelmed with a sense of “everything is going wrong and it’s all my fault.” In the past I’ve gotten through stressful times at Cottington by telling myself “not my circus, not my monkeys” — but now it was my circus*, and the monkeys weren’t dancing in time.

* It may not in fact have been my circus, but it felt like it more than it ever had.

As a result, I ended up acting embarrassingly childish. I threw the battery lights. I reamed out John (Michelle’s husband, plot writer, and game co-owner) when he came up to brief the NPCs. Scott later described me as “flipping tables”. During my lapse in sanity, however, Alex and the other helpful NPCs acted like adults and made the judgement calls I seemed mentally incapable of making.

Anyway, the mod finally got started, I have no idea how late. The PCs progressed through it veeeeery slooooowly. At one point the PCs were stymied because they needed a letter T for one of the question tags, and none of the NPCs had any to give as loot. We ended up turning an I into a T with a pen. (Problem solving!)

So that was most of my Friday night. It answers “biggest challenge,” “busiest moments,” and “last minute fixes” questions in one fell swoop!

It got better from there. To be fair, I don’t think I would have been doing so much setup if it weren’t for the fact that I was in the mod. Plus, the rest of the weekend I had the ever-competent Holly, fellow logistics person, to hold my hand and assure me that the monkeys were, in fact, going to be all right.

As a result, the prep for the back-to-back Invasive Fight/Mothlands mods on Saturday night went much more smoothly. There, my part involved:

  • Making sure there were stats for the Invasive Animals attacking in the first mod
  • Making sure there were stats for the Aranea, the giant invasive-eating moths in the second mod. (Here I employed my time-tested strategy of “make somebody do it who knows Accelerant better than I do.”)
  • Making sure there were printouts for the “hive mother” Aranea who were going to be doing a series of terrible calls to the invasive-infected PCs.
  • Giving instructions to the half of the NPCs who weren’t going to be in the first mod to set up Alumni Field. This may have led to two NPCs holding up glow-in-the-dark spider webs to the light in Monster Camp for a half hour. (Their idea, not mine. I’m not a cruel taskmistress).
  • Made sure all the Aranea costumes got carted up to Alumni Field along with the spider webbing.

Notice how none of this involves setting up glow-in-the-dark spiderwebs in the dark myself? That’s how it’s supposed to work. It does, sadly, mean I never got to see how it looked, but I’ll live with that.

Other questions…

Methods used to keep track of stuff?

Like most games I’ve NPCed, Cottington has a color-coded schedule on the wall that lists mod names, NPCs, and mod spaces. We typically schedule in 1.5 hour blocks (an improvement from the one-hour blocks we had when I started NPCing); the Friday night mod was scheduled for 3 hours, and it still ran over.

On top of that, we have a Google Drive folder with all the writeups (such as they are — some are more sketchy than others), and the staff site, which has a “Book of Beasts” that lists stats for common monsters. (Pro-tip: not nearly as much is in the Book of Beasts as you would hope).

The usual workflow of an NPC is read the schedule –> read the writeup (if it’s printed; otherwise get a logistics person to print it out first) –> grab a costume (with help from our talented costume/makeup maven, Sarah N, if needed) –> grab stats –> go help with setup. Stats may just be rambled at you (“you have 8 Vitality, take a Maim or an Agony every other life,” etc) or you may get a slip of paper with stats. I tried to make sure there were stat printouts for the bigger combat mods ahead of time, but I didn’t always succeed.

I also tried to keep a donations sheet (which we never seem to do, and I worry that PCs don’t get their donation CP) and an NPC sign-in sheet.

Did most stuff run much longer than expected?

Hmm… we’re always off-schedule, but I’m not sure it’s that stuff runs long so much as there’s slippage due to various factors.

Factor number one is not giving ourselves enough time for prep — the Friday night Alice mod, for example, probably should have had an hour of prep written into it, in addition to the three-hour run time.

Factor number two is, I think, an issue of NPC empowerment. It’s not always clear who the mod runner is — who’s responsible for pulling the NPCs together, gathering props, setting up the space, and hooking the mod. Sometimes it’s the author, but 80% of the mods are written by Michelle, and she generally isn’t available to do this stuff. And when it’s something anyone can do, no one does it.

In general if I’m written up to be the hook, I consider myself to be the mod runner. If someone tells me I’m the mod runner, I’m the mod runner. When in doubt, I read the writeup, put on a costume, and look helpful. Unfortunately, not everyone does the same thing.

Sunday was arguably our most on-track day, and I think it’s because at the beginning of the day I said, “Okay, NPCs, check the schedule and see what mod you’re in at 10am. Consider yourself empowered to run it, if necessary.” Stuff still went askew (a lot of stuff had to get canceled because the prerequisite mod from Friday or Saturday hadn’t run) but a greater percentage of mods ran than on any other day.

Factor number three in time slippage is definitely just the sheer number of mods that are supposed to run at any given time. It varies between five and ten mods in any given spot! I think part of this is an artifact of the campaign ending soon — we only have three more games to fit everything in.

We typically deal with slippage with a Saturday night huddle — this game was no different. Here, we (meaning Holly and myself) sat down with Michelle and John and prioritized what mods must run and what can be deferred until tomorrow or until next game. Sometimes it’s three mods that must run before dinner, and we have no idea how we’ll get through that, but we somehow manage. If you saw Robin and his letter from Silk, that was a mod that had to happen which we pulled off against all odds.

Most interesting modules to prep?

I think prepping the back-to-back Invasive Fight/Mothlands mod was the most interesting — it also went arguably the smoothest. There was interesting costuming, interesting mechanics, and interesting set dressing to arrange. And, for the most part, we pulled it off!

Unexpected setbacks?

I didn’t expect us to be operating with one printer that would only print in color. If you saw any tags printed in dark blue instead of black, that was why…

I also didn’t expect that so much stuff would be in Word files that Jay (the usual monster desk person) saved to John’s computer… once I realized that, it made finding things a lot easier…

I guess that’s all I have to say about working monster desk. It is hard work, but it is tremendously rewarding when a mod goes off on time and the PCs enjoy it.

Obligatory disclaimer: Nothing I write here should be construed as the official word of Cottington Woods. I’m not even a staffer — I’m just someone who didn’t step back fast enough when they were looking for logistics people 😉

I’m alive; Dickens isn’t

R.W. Buss' unfinished watercolor, "Dickens's Dream."
R.W. Buss’ unfinished watercolor, “Dickens’s Dream.”

Have not been posting because I’ve been run ragged. I’ve finally got a moment to catch my breath, so here, enjoy a summary post.


The spring of living most larpily is almost over. Cottington Woods was last weekend, and I worked logistics/monster desk, and it was stressful, but I learned a lot, and would do it again.

(One day someone will ask me to staff a campaign larp, and Matt won’t give me a meaningful stare quickly enough).

This upcoming weekend I may go out to Witchwood for a few hours on Saturday — or not, depending on if someone can be found for a certain role. Then on Sunday the Eyrie, my 5G group, is crashing the high tea at Camelot Co-Housing and having an RP day.


I am almost over my nasty cold that has lingered far longer than expected. I thought I was better going into this weekend, actually, but then it was 4am in the woods on Saturday and I couldn’t stop coughing long enough to fall asleep.


I’ve been reading a lot.

Still in the middle of Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. (How appropriate to mention — today is the anniversary of his death). It’s still delightful. I am developing a deep love of Dickens’ character studies. My reading is enhanced by the Our Mutual Friend Reading Project, and the related Our Mutual Friend Tweets. Of course I love the Eugene Wrayburn tweets the best:

Thanks to the exquisite Maggie D. for pointing me towards this wonder.

While I couldn’t sleep in the woods, I started reading Mistress of Fortune by Holly West. I’d picked up the epub over a year ago now, when I saw a promotional post West had written for it on Chuck Wendig’s blog. It sounded interesting — a mistress of Charles II secretly works as a fortune teller and investigates murders and tries to keep the king from being assassinated. And it is interesting, but I have hesitations.

West knows her history, I’ll give her that, and she paints a vivid picture of the time period. My issues aren’t with any of that.

The prose is workman-like, nothing to write home about, except for a few weird non-sequiturs which I feel should have been caught in editing. (This is small press? Or self-pub? I’m not sure which, but definitely not Big 3).

The plot is strange, and yet strangely compelling. The main character, Isabel, has all this busy backstory that informs her character, but it often times feels dropped on the reader. Isabel also starts the novel estranged from the king — whose assassination she is trying to prevent — and it takes a third of the book for us to even meet the character of Charles. It feels a bit like West is veering violently away from any interesting conflict. At one point Isabel goes to meet Lord Danby, and Charles starts walking towards them… and then literally turns around and walks away. It feels like the plot walking out the door.

Of course, that’s only an illusion, because stuff is happening. We’re just not sure of the significance of it yet.

Found it interesting that Sam, Isabel’s… bodyguard(?), is just casually gay, too.

Weird how Isabel reacts to Charles’ other mistresses. I mean, historically, he had tons, and I often wonder how they felt about each other. Isabel has this oddly acute jealousy; the book is full of moments where one historical mistress or another is name dropped (Lady Castlemaine, Nell Gwyn, etc) and Isabel is all, “ugh, I don’t like her.” I mean, I understand jockeying for position among the various lovers, but I guess I don’t understand this feeling Isabel has of wanting to be the only one in the king’s heart. It seems a completely unreasonable expectation for that situation.

We’ll see where it goes from here. So far it’s keeping me engaged.

Finally, I’ve also been reading Barbara Oakley’s A Mind for Numbers, and working through the related Coursera course, Learning How to Learn.


I made progress on Lioness in May, though not the 10k words I had hoped for. (It was more like 3k). I also edited my two Weekend Warrior flash pieces and sent them out to betas. Got some useful feedback which I am still digesting, but I probably won’t send it to anyone else, as I’ve already got more to think about than I know how to resolve. Thank you to everyone who offered, though.


I will be at Readercon. I’m skipping the Cottington summer one-day to attend.

I have a one-week staycation coming up in July. My current plan is to devote it entirely to writing and cleaning.

Our second mortgage will be paid off this month — woohoo! On a related note, I need to buy airfare for Consequences. Matt and I are thinking of stopping over in Dublin for a couple of days on the way there.

Penny the Scarab goes to Luxor

Shadows of Amun was this weekend, and as a perm NPC, I was there. It was our first game in 30BC, and I had fun being various characters, from murderous slaves to Roman charioteers.

But the most fun I had was being a talking bug.

When I got to Monster Camp on Friday, I heard those magical words from Quick: “I have a role for you.” Apparently I was slated to play a scarab drone gifted to the PCs as part of a truce with the local hive. I was initially a little bit dismayed, as I’d planned to go home in this time slot (12am-2am on Saturday night/Sunday morning), but once the module was explained to me I looked forward to it all weekend.

(For a little context as to why this was so awesome, scarabs are a recurring monster in this game. Indeed, the whole reason we’re time traveling is to prevent the Scarabpocalypse of 1919. The equivalent in a high fantasy larp would be something like “go play this baby goblin that was gifted to the PCs”).

“Do I have a name?” I asked Quick.
“No — you don’t have a concept of names. Though if the PCs give you one, you’ll answer to it.”

“Any bets on how long it will take the PCs to put ribbons in your mandibles?” Matt said.

It didn’t take long at all for me to get named — pretty much the trip from the beach to Monster Camp. I was gifted to Mrs. Loring, the PCs’ own hive queen (played by Amy W), and she decided I should be named Penny, because as a sister to the hive queen I was a proto-princess. Though Loring’s first instructions were to hide, I warned her I would come to her if she was in danger — because I knew I was scheduled to go out and fight on the side of the PCs in Sunday’s field fight.

On Sunday morning Quick and Lackey were discussing the field fight, and who would brief the PCs — usually an NPC who is fighting on the side of the PCs is the one who explains how the fight will work. They ruled out Jesse doing it as Marcus Antonius (as he had no IC reason to know how it would work), which basically left the task to me. Right — free three buildings of “food,” lure out the Priestess of Serket. It was my first time fulfilling so important a role, and… I think I did all right?

BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY. When I came out as Penny, Mrs. Loring decided that I needed something to distinguish me, so that the other PCs wouldn’t think I was a hostile scarab and attack me. She sent Malcolm to grab a scarf from her cabin. Hence, while not bows in my mandibles, I did end up with a colorful sash.

Penny’s identifying markings. I was urged to keep this, both IC and OOC, and since in Shadows individual NPCs generally hold on to their own face costuming…

… I have my first token from a player. It’s kind of adorable.

I hope I can come back as Penny in a future game. I have so many embarrassing things to say to the rest of the hive!

Welcome to Lise Being a Night Vale Hipster Night Vale

I am going to see the Welcome to Night Vale live show tonight in Boston. I am ridiculously excited by this.

In preparation, I re-listened to my very favorite episode, “A Story About You.” (Transcript here,* although you are denied the beauty of having Cecil read it to you). Still think this should have been nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) for the Hugos that year.

*all quotes below, unless otherwise noted, are from these transcripts.

I read the comments on the Youtube video, which, surprisingly, were not virulent and ugly, but they didn’t provide the probing discussion of this episode that I had hoped. One comment in particular caught my eye:

I just re-listened to this episode on my iPod and came here hoping there would be ppl discussing its meaning or purpose b/c this one was total gibberish to me, which probably means I am missing something. The only thing I got (Thank You The Fear Channel), was the Apache Tracker’s warning. If anyone has an idea of what this one was alluding to, please tell me.
–Melissa Koczur-Mitchell

At first I was like, Are you kidding me? This episode is rich with theme! But then I realized Melissa is probably referring to meaning or purpose within the context of the show. And, it’s true, there’s relatively little here that moves the story forward, except for the Apache Tracker’s warnings in Russian, which seem to refer to future trouble at the bowling alley.

But thematically… this episode touches on the absurd human condition, like everything I love. I think that meaning lies in quotes like these:

You have been haunted ever since by how easy it was to walk away from your life, and how few the repercussions were. You never heard from your fiancee or your job again. They never looked for you, which doesn’t seem likely, or maybe it’s that in Night Vale, you cannot be found.

The complete freedom.

The lack of consequence.

It terrifies you.

And at the end:

You can’t stop smiling.

All at once, the consequences. All at once you are no longer free. It’s all coming back around.

All at once.

This episode is, just as it says, a story about you — but also a story about me, a story about everyone. A story about life, distorted large (like the titan planet) and small (like the miniature house), but inescapable; it is being broadcast, even if just on the radio station inside your own head.

Inescapable, until it’s not, of course; until that radio station inside your head goes off the air.

This episode has “meaning and purpose” in that it is what Night Vale is all about: the stories we tell ourselves in the darkness behind closed eyelids.

Also, yanno. This episode contains one of my favorite, Dream Cycliest quotes in all of WTNV:

You saw above you a planet, of awesome size, lit by no sun. An invisible titan, all thick black forests and jagged mountains and deep turbulent oceans.

… it doesn’t look nearly so fearsome written out. Maybe it requires Cecil’s dulcet voice and a background of spooky Disparation music.

I hate to sound like a Night Vale hipster, especially since I’m a come-lately fan of the series, but I feel like many of the criticisms of the show miss the point. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me that they started listening to it but gave up when no coherent plot emerged; without that, they felt like it was the same gimmick over and over again.

It’s true that there’s no conflict-driven, multi-episode plot until fairly late in the series (I’d argue, the threat of StrexCorp, which I don’t think emerges until… at least 20 episodes in? And doesn’t conclude until “Old Oak Doors,” episode 49). But I’m okay with that — I enjoy the ride. I enjoy the recurring characters. I enjoy the absurdism and Lovecraftian flourishes. These things don’t feel like gimmicks to me. I always feel like I am discovering new and interesting parts of the town, while connecting with the same, delightfully askew cultural touchstones. (Even “A Story About You” has an appearance from Telly the Traitor!)

And in the midst of this weird humor, I’m constantly teasing out truths about life and art.

I feel like the folks who are in it for the long haul appreciate that.

… or they’re Cecil/Carlos fangirls. Whatever floats your boat 😉

I don’t think this series is going to come to some satisfying end where everything is tied up. I think a Twin Peaks ending would be entirely appropriate; an ending whose meaning I can tease out and recreate in my head over years and years. I don’t expect any grand unifying theory of plot; I realize this, even as I compare the dates in “[Best Of?]” to dates in “Cassette,” searching for patterns that don’t exist.

If you stare too long into the vast desert wasteland, the vast desert wasteland also stares back.

The only appropriate response is to sit back, relax, and drink to forget.