Perpetuating Cynicism Perpetuates Rape Culture

Recently my daughter and I both read a book called Keeping Corner, which is a novel about Leela, a 12 year old widow in India in 1918. (It’s a wonderful book—you should read it. You’ll find my full spoilerific review here.) It led to the beginning of a discussion with my daughter (12 years old, like Leela) about sexual assault and victim blaming—a conversation I’m sure we’ll be having for years to come.

This short conversation made me think about how to best discuss this issue with kids. It helped a lot that we had the shared context of a novel—the experience of a girl my daughter felt connected to but still had some distance from because she’s fictional. And because we see the story from Leela’s point of view, the reader knows her thoughts and emotions in a way that’s difficult if not impossible with a situation from the news.

Toward the end of the book, when Leela first goes out in public in her widow’s garb, her mother arms her with a sharp piece of jewelry, warning her that there are those who would take advantage of her. Sure enough, a man attacks her; she uses her weapon to leave long scratches down his arms and he runs off. Soon she hears that the local tailor is unavailable because he somehow got his arms all scratched up—now she knows who attacked her. She tells her family, and they tell her they aren’t surprised. He’s raped before, several times. Leela is horrified—why is he still on the streets if people know that he does this? Her mother points out that the victim is much more likely to pay for the crime than the rapist. It isn’t worth it to come forward. And so he continues to attack women with no consequences. Leela wisely holds her culture responsible for this situation—a culture of silence allows those crimes to happen. A community that knows about his crimes but does nothing to stop him is guilty, too.

My daughter and I had a few minutes alone on the way to her piano lesson, so I asked her what she thought about that scene. She found it frightening and didn’t understand why the tailor would attack Leela. I reminded her of the lack of consequences, and she intuitively understood the concept of victim blaming.

(As Clark pointed out when I talked with him about it later, it’s not surprising that kids grasp victim blaming—it’s par for the course in childhood. A few kids act up, everyone gets punished. You’re being bullied, it’s probably something you did—although thankfully, in many schools this mindset is changing. When you don’t have a lot of control over your life but you’re held responsible for the things that happen around you, victim blaming is a pretty intuitive concept.)

We talked about how the culture Leela lived in made it possible for a rapist to go unpunished and for victims to be blamed and to blame themselves. And I felt it was my responsibility as a mother to tell her that this culture is still in place in many ways and in many places. I told her that blaming the victim, particularly in a rape, is still common, including in our country.

I mentioned the recent case in India as a horrific modern example—as I read about Leela, I had that case in the back of my mind and how nearly 100 years later things haven’t changed as much as we would hope. (Let me be clear that I’m not saying that this is unique to Indian culture. YouTube videos from Steubenville should kill any complacency we in the west have about that kind of bigotry.) But I also said that in this case, because it was so horrible and because it garnered a lot of attention, it looks like maybe things will start to change. She wanted to know that the rapists would be held accountable. I told her that, after the uproar, they did arrest the men involved and hopefully they will be convicted—hopefully these rapists at least will face consequences.

For her sense of justice, she wants the bad guys to pay for what they do. But it was all too easy for her to understand why victims wouldn’t want to come forward and that, even if they do, people may blame them instead.

About to pull up to her piano lesson, I realized I couldn’t leave the discussion on such a negative note. I told her that it feels like things are changing, that people are talking about this, that slowly it’s getting better. I gave her a big fake grin and said, “So, have fun at your lesson!” She smiled for real and told me that she was going to think about all the good things that people do, instead of dwelling on this.

I know she’ll continue to think about it. In the next few weeks, she’ll probably ask me some huge and involved question about it just as I’m tucking her into bed and we’ll stay up way too late talking about rape culture because that’s just not the kind of question you can leave until morning.

But I know, too, that no matter how hopeless it feels sometimes, no matter how many horrible situations we hear about, I can’t make her think it’s hopeless. If we talk about it, but I give her no hope that she or her friends will be believed if they step forward, then I’m perpetuating that culture. If we talk about all the bad things and don’t actively look for the good, then we’re implicitly telling young girls that they might as well give up.

For the sake of the generation coming up behind us, we need to project hope, to see and acknowledge the change that’s happening, to give credit to the small changes that may not be coming as quickly as we’d like. It’s so easy to be cynical, to see hatred and misogyny wherever you look. It’s easy to dwell on the negative—we hear of new incidents every day—and it may feel important to make our daughters know just how bad it is out there.

It’s true that we’re not as far as we should be, not as far as we all thought we would be. But if our girls are going to keep moving ahead, they need to see hope—and that means we need to look for hope. They need to see that change is possible—and we need to at least allow for that possibility. They need to believe that if they speak up, there will be people to make sure they’re heard—and we need to assure them that we’ll be among those people, and we won’t be the only ones.

Sure, in time our girls may get beaten down, too. But our cynicism isn’t a legacy we should pass on to them—it’s one of those things you should earn for yourself.

Note: So far I’ve only begun this conversation with my daughter. Her younger brother isn’t quite ready for this discussion. But in the meantime, we’re raising both our kids to know and protect their own boundaries and to respect other people and their boundaries. That’s part of where the hope for the future comes from. There’s a whole post on that topic that I plan to get to another day.

StumbleUponShare
Posted in Parenthood | 4 Comments

The Quest for Characters Like Me

I’ve recently read a lot of articles, tweets, and so on about girls not finding female characters in games, movies, etc. I have a geeky daughter, and I’m painfully aware of how common this is. And while she’s not necessarily opposed to playing male characters, she definitely prefers to play a female character when possible.

Avengers Tshirt

Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, even Hawkeye. Where’s Black Widow?

My girl loves The Avengers—the movie itself offers characters like Black Widow and Maria Hill, both of whom she likes. The merchandise, however, rarely includes Black Widow unless there are at least 5 characters depicted, and she’s usually off to the side or sort of in the background. Absolutely nothing I’ve found features her, unlike Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and to a lesser extent the Hulk. (Admittedly, Hawkeye is equally excluded—one could argue that you don’t get your own notebook or water bottle until you’ve also gotten your own movie…but that just points out another problem.) You can only get the Black Widow Lego minifig as part of a $70 set.

Speaking of Lego, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are pretty big in our house, too. I know these settings are sorely lacking in female characters. But Lego really couldn’t have included Eowyn in The Battle of Helm’s Deep? Or included Arwen and her horse with Attack on Weathertop?

These oversights in other media make the Skylanders games stand out all the more because of their inclusion of multiple female characters. Skylanders has kind of taken over our house, but in general I’m happy to let it happen.

Skylanders-figures

Stealth Elf and Tree Rex

A quick overview: Skylanders (Spyro’s Adventure and Giants) is a line of video games that uses physical collectible figures. Part of what’s so cool is that each figure stores its own information, so you can take your figure to a friend’s house and still play your own specialized character on your friend’s game. (Here’s a better detailed and more technical explanation.) There are also several app games where you can enter the codes from each figure and play those characters on your iPad or whatever.

Caveat: I have to admit that my experience with the game is mostly second hand—I talk with my kids about it, together we choose new characters to buy, I’m in the room when they play but not actually paying a ton of attention. (Although I am totally addicted to one of the app games, which uses the same characters—when the kids buy a new figure, I get a new character in my game! Truly, this is brilliant marketing.) I haven’t given this intense academic study and my observations are primarily based on the experiences of my family and the families of some friends.

It’s true that significantly less than half of the characters are female (only about 25%), and it’s possible, even probable, that if I really examined some of the portrayals, I’d find something problematic (although I bet I’d also find male stereotypes that would bother me). But the thing that I love is that there are a variety of female characters—even at 25%, that means about 10 individual and differentiated female characters. These aren’t things you have to unlock; if you want, you can start the game with an all-female party because you purchase the figures for the characters you want to play.

Whirlwind - a unicorn dragon

Whirlwind – a unicorn dragon

These aren’t just token females, throwing a pink sparkly bone to some girl who might want to play. These are cool and unique characters. There are purple male characters and blue female characters. Yes, one of them is a unicorn dragon hybrid who shoots lethal rainbows out of her horn, but that’s awesome, too. The female characters don’t have to give up feminine characteristics in order to be effective. When we were first getting acquainted with the game, several male clerks in various game stores mentioned that Stealth Elf was the best character from the first series, meaning that the coveted character is a female ninja.

Sonic Boom with one of her babies

Sonic Boom with one of her babies

My son really wanted Sonic Boom who lays eggs that hatch into baby dragons who are cursed to go back into their eggs rather than growing up. Aside from the egg thing, there’s nothing about Sonic Boom that screams female—she’s just an armored dragon. So my boy at first thought it was a male dragon who laid eggs, which I think is also kind of cool. Dads in his world are usually quite involved with their kids, so why shouldn’t dads in a fantasy world also lay eggs? (Yes, for my son, the default gender of a character is male, just like the default gender for my daughter is female. Makes sense to me.)

My daughter is mixed on video games—she plays a bit, but it’s not a major interest for her. But Skylanders, with cool female characters and collectible figures, has grabbed her attention. No, she doesn’t play it as much as her brother does. But she does play it and she does spend her allowance on new figures. A friend of mine is the mother of three boys. She doesn’t play a lot of video games, but when she saw the female Skylanders, she bought herself a figure and she plays with her sons.

Sprocket ended up under our Christmas tree, too. How could we resist?

Sprocket ended up under our Christmas tree, too.
How could we resist?

During the holidays, Skylanders Giants descended on many houses. Over at our friends’ house, they showed us three of their new Skylanders—my friend got Chill, the winter warrior. Her husband got Sprocket who is armed with a huge wrench. And their middle son got the gem dragon Flashwing. It just so happens that all three of those characters are female. It wasn’t planned that way—they just chose the cool characters that most appealed to them.

I have way too much fun with this game.

I have WAY too much fun with this game.

I don’t play the video game, but I’m totally addicted to Lost Islands, a Skylanders resource management game for the iPad. The title page for that game features Stealth Elf and Flashwing prominently. There are bios for each of the Skylanders, which my daughter has devoured and memorized. These provide motivations for all the characters, which engages her imagination and helps draw her into the world of the video game. She particularly likes that Sprocket is searching for her missing uncle—I think it reminds her of the plots of some of the books she’s enjoyed.

I’m not going to say that Skylanders is perfect—there are some weird gender dynamics between two NPCs (the buffoon pilot routinely and ineffectually hits on the female combat instructor)—but in a world where it seems particularly hard for geeky girls to find characters they can identify with, it really stands out as an example of where I hope we’re headed. And based on my personal experiences, characters being female has in no way discouraged male players from buying and playing them, and in several instances it has drawn in female players who otherwise might have ignored the game.

Sounds like an all around win to me.

(For more on why I think gender in video games matters even though I don’t play them and for a link to a great article on the topic, see the previous post.)

StumbleUponShare
Posted in Games, Kids and Gaming, Parenthood | 6 Comments

Story Matters

Story matters, on a fundamental level. Fiction reveals reality and can, in turn, change it.

I have a masters degree in children’s literature. Really. I studied how we use stories, often unconsciously, to teach our children about how they should behave in the world. I looked primarily at fairytales, since they get passed down through the years, changing as society changes.

Most of us no longer need the message from “Beauty and the Beast” that the “monster” your father makes you marry for business reasons will probably turn out to be a very nice guy, so you might as well make the best of it. And so the focus of the story changes to fit the lessons we want to teach now, about looking beyond outside appearances to see the good inside. Disney made it even more nuanced by making it so both Belle and the Beast need to grow and change—a much needed update for a beautiful story mired in awkward beginnings.

Anyway, all of this is just to explain part of why I find this article by Becky Chambers about gender in video games to be so compelling.

I’m not a big video game player, but I’m a huge story geek, and some of the coolest stories today are being told through video games. So yes, it matters a lot when large groups of people are left out of or marginalized in the telling of these stories.

I completely agree that we’ll know we’ve finally made it when there’s wide diversity in our protagonists—in games, in children’s media, in TV shows, in commercials—and it doesn’t strike us as odd. We’ll have made it when there’s no reason to talk about it. But we’re not there yet, and so it’s important to have these conversations until we get there.

Her personal experiences say more than my academic approach can. It’s a well written and interesting article. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.

StumbleUponShare
Posted in Games, Parenthood | 6 Comments

Getting There

Being a parent is frequently terrifying. You know you’re screwing your kid up. You’re certain that every influence or bad thing is screwing your kid up for you in ways that you never imagined. It’s so hard to see what you’re doing right, and so painfully obvious where you’re falling short. And you don’t have to be a grumpy old neighbor yelling at kids to get off your lawn to fear that the current generation is the one that’s sending our whole society to hell in a handbasket.

But, if you let yourself recognize the good stuff, kids are the reason I have hope for the future. They’re why I think the world can change and why we as adults who care about kids can have an actual impact on making the world better.

Today my daughter shared something that happened at school that gives me hope, and I want to share it with you.

My daughter is in sixth grade and she’s just started yoga as one of her electives for this marking period. She had her first yoga class today and two of the boys were talking about what it means to be “tough.” (Sidenote: First—she gets to take yoga as a school elective. Second—there are at least two sixth grade boys who are taking yoga by choice. I think this is very cool.)

So the boys were talking about different kinds of tough, and they were drawing a distinction between “football tough” and “wrestling tough.”

My daughter spoke up and asked, “What about dancer tough?”

They replied, “Oh, yeah. They can get broken feet and stuff.”

She was pleasantly surprised by their response—she’d expected an argument. Of course, she’s been dancing ballet since she was three (about nine years now) so she had to explain that with proper training and safe practices most dancers don’t actually break their feet.

Let me take a moment to give my own kid kudos, because she had the guts to speak up even when her expectation was that they were going to shoot her down. I’m proud of her for that.

What makes me thrilled, though, is that there are a couple of athletic sixth grade boys who without hesitation acknowledged the toughness required to be a dancer. They in essence classified my daughter as an athlete no different from them. Calling her tough made them no less tough, no less athletic, no less masculine.

I’m grateful to the parents, teachers, and coaches of these boys. There must be phrases those adults heard as children that they chose not to repeat to this generation of kids. There must have been conscious decisions to repeatedly work against the social norms that seep in even as we fight against them.

No, the world isn’t perfect. Sexism isn’t gone. I’m sure some jerk is going to say something insulting to my girl that will make her cry as she tells him off. I’m sure even these boys who make me so happy today will say something stupid at some point. I know I need to remind my strong brave daughter that it’s not okay to use her girl power to insult her brother.

But these kids are starting out so much farther ahead than we did. Miles ahead of where our parents did. Light years ahead of where our grandparents did. We’re getting there. It may be slower than we hope, but we’re getting there.

StumbleUponShare
Posted in Parenthood | 2 Comments

#1reasontobe

I don’t feel like I’m any kind of hero for sticking it out to become a woman working fulltime editing RPGs. It’s pretty much a dream come true, and I’ve never been more accepted and respected. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I have little to add to #1reasonwhy there are so few women in gaming—I feel a bit like I lead a charmed life that way.

Nevertheless, sometimes I’m aware of a weight on my shoulders as a woman in a male-dominated field. This is all the more apparent when I look at my children who are immersed in gaming in many ways. I realize that I’m a role model whether I want to be one or not. I’d best not fuck it up.

But that’s my primary #1reasontobe—I feel like what I do matters. Sure, I’m helping people make games. But games can change the world. Really. At least they can help change culture, and that in time will change the world. It’s that glacial kind of change, the kind our grandchildren will probably benefit from more than we will, but it still matters. If we work against the culture that makes it hard to be a woman in gaming, our daughters will see that this is a field they can be part of. And it will never occur to our granddaughters that games are for boys and that women can’t be equally involved in making and playing games.

(Or that games are only for for cisgendered white people to make and play. This is absolutely not only about women. However, as a cisgendered white woman raising a cisgendered white daughter, please bear with me if that’s my primary example since it ties in with my personal experiences. But I believe that battles for equality are more alike than they are different, and as walls come down for one group, they’re at least weakened significantly for other groups as well.)

For the most part, I see an openness and inclusion in the gaming community that I’m part of that I would like to see in the world as a whole. It’s painfully clear that not everyone is like this—I’m horrified by some of the overt misogyny, racism, and homophobia that other people have experienced in gaming, shocked and saddened that there are people in the world who could possibly say such things in this day and age. In my little bubble, those people are very much the exception and that kind of thing isn’t tolerated. I don’t mean to say my peeps are saints—we get on each other’s nerves and bicker from time to time and once in awhile someone says something stupid, we all get bent out of shape, feelings get hurt, and usually there are apologies and we learn something and we move on. But for the most part, people who are part of my circles are respectful of each other. The ones who aren’t stand out as the exceptions they are.

That kind of thing is contagious. As those circles of respect widen, more people join in and learn how not to accidentally be jerks (of course, it doesn’t help the ones who are proud of being jerks, but some humans are like that). And as youngsters grow up in these circles of respect, there’s so much they’ll never have to unlearn. Inclusion will be normal to them.

So my main #1reasontobe is because I want to be part of why a gaming community is welcoming and inclusive. I want to help create games that reflect a variety of people and that any gamer can look at and picture herself or himself as part of that game in the art, in the characters we present, in the themes we explore. I want to create the gaming community where my daughter and my son will be welcomed and nurtured. I want other women to look at gaming and see me at the gaming table, in the booth selling my books, in the credits of lots of games, and I want them to feel like they won’t be alone here.

I may “just” be making games, but I also think I’m helping make a better world for my children and my grandchildren, regardless of gender, race, ability, or sexual orientation.

StumbleUponShare
Posted in Conventions, Editing, Freelancing Life, Games, Kids and Gaming, Parenthood | 5 Comments

#1reasonwhy

I’ve been slowly catching up on the #1reasonwhy phenomenon—it’s still a little staggering to see a Twitter conversation between two people I know personally evolve into a trending topic covered by multiple news organizations!

I had little to add to that conversation. I’ve been really lucky and I don’t really have any stories to share, even though I’ve been involved in gaming for almost 17 years, I’ve been a professional for nearly 10 years, and I’ve gone to many conventions. Sure, I used to occasionally get mistaken as a spouse who was dragged to a convention, but once people were set straight I was always immediately accepted into the conversation as a gaming professional. And now that I have some high profile games under my belt, no one makes that mistake anymore.

I’ve given some thought as to why I’ve been so lucky, and I think it’s a variety of things.

My gaming groups

I started gaming relatively late in life, after I was married. My first gaming group was all adults and overwhelmingly female—Clark and me, another couple, and two single women. Most of us were newbie gamers. It was a very safe place to learn to play. The guys were the ones with the most experience, but they were so eager to share a beloved hobby with us that there was no condescension or belittling.

When we moved, our next gaming group learned to deal with nursing infants at the table. Again, I wasn’t the only woman—Shannon Butcher was in one of our groups and Jessica Banks was in both. Jim and Shannon’s tween son often played with us as long as his attention held out. After the Butchers and Bankses moved away, our group changed again—and it brought two new couples and another series of nursing infants.

I’ve always gamed with friends, I’ve never been the only woman, and I’ve always gamed with adults. I know not everyone has access to a situation like this, but oh my goodness what a difference it makes. The kinds of horror stories I hear about would never happen at our table.

My career

As has been mentioned elsewhere, I got into editing because I was friends with Cam Banks. Anyone who knows Cam knows there’s no way he was going to be awful to me—he’s a genuinely decent human being in addition to being one of my best friends. Plus Jess would kick his ass. So I never once in any way felt like being a woman was a liability working with Cam. I also started out with Margaret Weis’ company—the whole company was used to seeing a woman in a position of authority. I may have had to convince them they needed an editor, but I never had to convince them a woman was capable of doing the job.

Next, I worked with Evil Hat. It’s true that in much of my work on The Dresden Files I work almost solely with men (lots of women have contributed both writing and art, but due to when I came onto the project and because of my role, I’ve had little to do with them). But I was fully respected as a professional editor from the get go. Maybe I wasn’t as aggressive as I could have been sometimes, but that’s because I was star struck to be working with Fred Hicks, Rob Donoghue, and Leonard Balsera! When we all got together at Fred’s house or at a convention, I never felt like the token woman. It was often only later that I would realize I’d been the only woman. I was just a professional among my peers.

Now, anyone who hires me does so based on my reputation. And you don’t do that and then abuse that person for happening to be female. Plus I don’t work with jerks. Everyone I’ve worked with has been amazing, but I’m lucky to be in a position now where people approach me—I don’t have to go out looking for jobs.

Conventions

I didn’t go to a convention until my kids were old enough to stay with Grandma for a week (as has been mentioned in #1reasonwhy, it often just makes sense for the mom to stay with little kids). Clark had been to Gen Con a few times so he was eager to share it with me—I wasn’t wandering around lost by myself at my first convention. Within a few years, my involvement in RPG editing meant that conventions were a chance to meet up with the people I work with. I’m typically surrounded by my friends and coworkers, many of whom happen to be male.

I often wear a corset or work a booth—I’ve even worked a booth while wearing a corset a few times—but I’ve never had anyone be anything except occasionally slightly creepy. I’ve never experienced an overtly lewd comment or an unwelcome touch. I’m not sure how I’ve managed to avoid this—maybe because my husband or someone else is usually with me? I don’t know how much of a role this plays—I know some of the real creeps don’t care who’s around, for instance—but I do wonder if my tendency to be surrounded by safe guys protects me from the jerks.

(Addendum: I’m typically surrounded by friends—both male and female. My female friends are just as scary as—if not scarier than—my male friends if you threaten one of our group.)

Danger sensors

I’ve never been sexually assaulted. Once when I was a young teen, some skeezy guy tried to convince me to join him for a party at the abandoned train station, but when I looked at him like he was insane, he didn’t stop me from walking away. During my college years, I was in some situations that in retrospect were pretty damn vulnerable, but I was always lucky enough to be with guys who didn’t take advantage of me. Therefore, many things that are triggers for lots of other women aren’t triggers for me. Sometimes I wonder if I’m not even noticing some of what goes on, especially at conventions, because it doesn’t set off my danger sensors.

The traumatic bullying I suffered in middle school and early high school? It was all at the hands of other girls. I learned to fear them, not the boys. Luckily, the female gamers I know are supportive and wonderful, so I haven’t had to deal with middle school flashbacks.

To sum up

I never had to navigate the waters alone. I came into gaming as a married adult, not as a single girl. I game with friends, which always includes other women. I hang out with really great guys who have never done anything to make me uncomfortable and who probably unintentionally form a buffer around me. I started my career with people who already respected me as a person. I am very lucky.

I know that there are plenty of misogynistic assholes out there. My heart hurts for the horrible experiences so many of you have had. My brain aches when the trolls come out to prove that misogyny is alive and well. But please know that there are lots and lots of wonderful people out there, too.

I’m incredibly grateful I have nothing of substance to add to #1reasonwhy, and I’m equally grateful for the courage of so many people to speak up and share their reasons. I believe that your courage will help change the atmosphere so that eventually my experiences will be the norm.

Now, #1reasontobe? Well, I’ve got tons of those. I promise a post on that soon.

StumbleUponShare
Posted in Conventions, Editing, Freelancing Life, Games | 4 Comments

A Few of My Favorite Leftover Things

It’s about time to cue the complaints about how much turkey everyone has left over and how sick they are of turkey sandwiches. At our house, though, it seems like we never have enough leftovers from Thanksgiving because two of our favorite recipes work best prepared straight from the remains of the feast-laden table.

I probably should have posted this yesterday since often I do most of this leftover prep while clearing the table after dinner, but dinner wasn’t at our house yesterday so I wasn’t even thinking about leftovers! Hopefully these recipes will still come in handy, or at least you’ll have them for after future turkey feasts.

Both are ridiculously easy and can be made ahead of time. The scalloped turkey freezes well. The consistency of the stew gets weird in the freezer, but it does just fine sitting in the fridge for a few days before you cook it.

Without further ado, some favorite Valentine family recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers. You’re welcome.

Scalloped Turkey

What you need:

  • Turkey
  • Gravy
  • Stuffing

What you do:

  1. Tear bite size pieces of turkey off the carcass until you have enough to generously cover the bottom of a casserole dish.
  2. Pour leftover gravy over top – enough to keep it moist, but not so much that you get soup.
  3.  Spread leftover stuffing over that, enough to cover the whole thing, but it doesn’t need to be thick.
  4. Bake at 350 until everything is hot—the gravy is bubbling nicely and the stuffing is crispy on top (usually about 20-25 min, longer – 40-50 minutes? – if you take it straight out of the freezer).

If you’re running low on leftovers, jarred gravy and stuffing from a box work just fine for this dish. This does really well going straight from the freezer to the oven, so if we have enough we make one for dinner the next day and one to freeze for later.

Leftover Stew

What you need:

  • Mashed potatoes
  • Turkey or veggie or chicken stock (made by boiling the carcass or dumped out of a can – either is fine)
  • Spices to taste
  • Turkey
  • Corn
  • Peas

What you do:

  1. In a crock pot, add enough stock to leftover mashed potatoes, stirring often, until it gets to be the consistency of slightly thick stew base (it will get thinner when it’s warm, so judge accordingly).
  2. Throw in some spices like parsley, maybe a little salt (but not much), etc. Whatever sounds good, but keep it on the mild side.
  3. Add in bite size pieces of turkey and the leftover corn and peas.
  4. Cook on low until you’re ready to eat.

This recipe is forgiving and adaptable—play around with it and make it your own, using whatever you have on hand.

These two recipes are the reason that we create leftovers when the big meal isn’t at our house. (I spent today dismantling rotisserie chickens for scalloped chicken. Not quite the same, but close enough in a pinch.) What are your favorite things to do with leftovers?

StumbleUponShare
Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

The Con You Wish You Went To

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, after driving past downed trees and long lines at gas stations, we arrived in Morristown, NJ, for Metatopia. Luckily, it was in the six block area of Morristown that somehow still had power. Many of the attendees left homes that still had no electricity, were damaged by trees, or in some other way were still very much dealing with the effects of Mother Nature’s wrath. Most of the attendees arrived exhausted physically and emotionally.

But for three days about three hundred of us gathered in the Hyatt, testing games, talking about a wide variety of topics during organized panels or while standing in hallways or gathered in unoccupied meeting rooms or over drinks and meals. While the effects of the storm were felt in some ways—such as some last minute cancellations and the sad demise of the catering coffee maker which meant coffee was not among the refreshments provided outside the main meeting room—the convention felt like an oasis of warmth and light, both literally and metaphorically.

It was an amazing amount of fun. One reason Clark and I have turned Origins and Gen Con into week long events is because the best conversations seem to happen right before and right after the cons are scheduled. The exhibitor’s hall is closed, no one is scheduled for 4-8 hour shifts working a booth or running games. We can relax and hang out together. Metatopia was kind of like three days of that.

I hear there’s this great playtesting thing going on at Metatopia. Honestly, I can’t really speak to that since the only playtesting I did was when Tim Rodriguez saw me and some other people walking by and said, “Hey, come try out this card game!” I sat in on some testing for a game with Cam Banks, but since I’ll be working on the game that hardly counts! And I know Clark had a good experience playtesting his Kriegzeppelin Valkyrie game. I was aware that there was a lot of playtesting going on, but that was about it.

For me, Metatopia was a series of panel discussions. I was on nine panels in less than 48 hours, and I attended several more. The topics were widely varied—working with an editor, how not to be a jerk, working with licensed properties, women in gaming, to name a few—and the discussions often went in unexpected but almost always informative and interesting directions. Most people were intent on actual conversation, learning from talking to other people who were also intent on learning from them. Even when I was the one running a panel, the discussions often challenged me and gave me stuff to think about.

I don’t mean to make it sound perfect. Like any gathering of actual human beings, of course there were some uncomfortable “Holy shit, did that person actually just say that?!?” moments. But considering some of the topics that were discussed, including potentially inflammatory issues like sexism, cultural appropriation, and stereotypes, those uncomfortable moments stand out for their relative rarity.

Many of the panels were recorded, if you want to check them out. Jason Pitre is releasing some of those recordings on a new podcast at Genesis of Legend Publishing. They typically last about an hour. None of my panels are up there yet, but you can hear me toward the end of Episode 2!

Some of my favorite people in the world were at Metatopia, and I was happy to spend a few days talking to them. I also met and got to know some more really incredible people, and I look forward to seeing them in the future. My list of fascinating people to talk to over drinks is getting ridiculously long.

Two weeks later, I’m still thinking about some of the conversations that happened at Metatopia. I have a post on stereotypes brewing in my head. I hope it makes it into coherent words soon.

This was only Metatopia’s second year. It’s still a work in progress, and it’s obvious that the folks at Double Exposure are really listening to feedback and doing their best to make it a fantastic experience for both playtesting and the panel track—things that make Metatopia unique. It’s definitely on our list of conventions we can’t miss.

StumbleUponShare
Posted in Conventions, Editing, Freelancing Life, Games, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

When Your Editor Sucks

Today I wrote a tough email to an author who sent me a review copy of her book. I probably won’t post the review (although if she decides any publicity is better than none, I’ll write it up) because to me the book felt like an unfinished work in need of a good editor.

But here’s the thing—she credited an editor.

Several other self-published books I’ve read have had similar issues, but one in particular stands out. Despite the work of two paid editors, the plot was sprawling and needed a hundred or so pages cut from it. Although I think this book has the potential to be really interesting and solid, the author just doesn’t have the time and money to invest in reediting a book she’d already put out there. (I suggested she work with John Adamus for the sequel; I hope this interesting series will find its wings.)

As a reviewer, I’m on the outskirts of the self-publishing world—I see the products that authors submit to me to review, but I don’t know what all goes into getting a book to print. Sometimes it looks like people just stick a spell-checked second draft on Amazon for $.99 and call it good enough. Sometimes books are obviously crafted, often with more love and effort than goes into many traditionally published books.

In my naïveté and biased point of view as an editor, I assumed that the difference was whether or not the author worked with an editor—besides having the book proofread by a well-intentioned friend who majored in English 20 years ago.

But several of these books that really need to go back into the oven a time or two do have editors who are credited and thanked. This raises a couple questions for me.

  1. Is it an issue of label? If you don’t know what an editor really does, maybe you’ve called the proofreader your editor. Should my criteria for whether I’ll read your book be how you answer the question “Please define the role of an editor”?
  2. Are editors shafting self-published writers? This worries me because it preys on authors trying to do it right, and it feeds into the idea that you don’t really need to work with an editor because it’s just a waste of time and money. It seems pretty obvious that working with these particular editors was a waste of time and money.

The label issue is fairly easily solved. There are lots of good discussions online about the role of an editor, working with an editor, etc. I won’t repeat them here (but please feel free to include links to your favorites in the comments). To sum up, though, there are several levels of editing that should happen before your book goes to print. The first should challenge aspects of your story on a very fundamental level, probably on a level that makes you want to throw your laptop and/or your editor out the window. This is the level that usually seems to be lacking from the poorly edited self-published books I’ve read. Only after this can you get into the copyediting and finally the proofreading levels.

I don’t know for sure that the issue of editors shafting writers exists, but it seems likely. I suppose one answer is to find editors who come highly recommended. Here’s where the community that’s built up around self-published and small press authors can come in handy. Find books that seem to have been really well edited and see if the author would recommend that editor. Maybe you should only work with editors whose work you’ve seen and who other authors have had great experiences with.

On the other hand, I got into RPG editing because someone took a chance on an untried editor and I rose to the challenge. I’ll need someone to take a chance on me again if I start to get into fiction editing. I’d hate for it to be harder for good editors to break into the business.

Authors, I’d love to hear from you. What experiences have you had working with editors? How do you choose an editor? How do you make sure you’re working with a worthwhile editor? What are the danger signs that you’re getting shafted and what can you do about it?

It makes me sad to read books that have potential but have fallen short. It makes me furious on behalf of the author and my profession when it seems like the person hired to prevent that didn’t bother to fulfill expectations.

StumbleUponShare
Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

The Freelancer’s Workday

I’ve completed my first year living the dream as a full time freelancer in the RPG business. I am so lucky to be able to do this, and so grateful to Clark who provides the steady paycheck and the insurance that makes this possible.

I’m still struggling with some stuff, though. I’m sure that, like a marriage, you never actually reach a point in your career where suddenly things are perfect and you have nothing left to improve. It’s a lifelong relationship that grows and changes over time.

Here are some of the things I’m still working on. If you have any advice or similar stories, I’d love to hear it.

I haven’t learned how to differentiate my workday.

It’s not like I leave an office at the end of the day and head home—my office is a corner of the sofa. It’s also where I help the kids with homework, it’s where I sit to watch TV, it’s where I write book reviews, it’s sometimes where I eat dinner. Working looks a lot like everything else I do. This means that it’s all too easy for my work to be interrupted by other things and for work to become a constant undercurrent. “Sorry, kids; I know we were doing stuff, but I just got an email I need to deal with.” Often it feels like I’m always half working, and that’s not ideal for my family or my job.

It would be great if I had room to make a home office, but I don’t. Working away from home gets expensive, and it means I have to deal with lots of other people—honestly, one of my favorite parts of working at home is that often the only other living thing I have to deal with face to face is a sleeping cat. Since I’m working with people who live in different time zones or have day jobs that aren’t this, I feel like I need to be available well beyond a typical workday. It feels like a constant tug of war, and I’m not yet gracefully handling transitions.

Even though my time is flexible, that doesn’t mean it’s unlimited.

Because I could always technically get to my editing later, it’s hard to say no to family and friends who need something. This is all the more true because I’m one of the few people who does have the flexibility to help out during the workday. And often, it really isn’t a big deal to run an errand or even give up the occasional day—I can make up the time in the evenings or something.

But when I don’t know how to say no, it’s also really easy to lose several days, and that’s not so easy to make up. And the more I don’t say no, the more people expect me to be available during the day. I think it’s hard for people to understand that I’m working a real job when I’m sitting at home on my sofa and there’s no boss breathing down my neck if I take a personal phone call.

It’s true that my workdays are flexible, while my evenings are totally full with my kids and—if I’m really lucky—some time with Clark. But I’m having trouble learning how to protect my work time while still living up to my responsibilities to extended family and friends.

Home is distracting.

One reason I have trouble saying no to people is that I’m painfully aware that I probably could give them some time if I hadn’t gotten distracted by Twitter, or finished that book, or given in to the urge to take a nap. Most days I do pretty well, but some days everything seems more interesting than whatever I’m working on (this is in no way a reflection of whatever I’m working on, because the same thing will engage me completely the next day). Because I work alone, I have to motivate myself to stay on task. No one will actually know if it takes me five hours to do something I could have done in two.

I find it especially difficult to stay focused on things that don’t have deadlines breathing down my neck. I’ve always been like this—I was the college kid pounding away on the paper due that day as the sun rose over my computer monitor. I’m learning to set arbitrary deadlines for myself on long term projects, but sometimes I find myself hard to fool!

I’d love to hear from you.

What are some of the issues you face as a freelancer and/or someone who works from home? Have you found any strategies that work particularly well for you?

StumbleUponShare
Posted in Editing, Freelancing Life | 10 Comments