Pandemic Playlist (mild adult content)

January 13, 2022 at 3:54 am (Uncategorized)

For me, there are two songs—both from early 2020—that simultaneously define the lockdown experience while also being oddly uplifting.

(Of course, if they were from now-ish, they’d probably be more focused on the experience of getting sick and/or knowing someone who is sick or in hospital, because sheer numbers are exploding and the only “lockdowns” seem to be isolation, quarantine, or people deciding for themselves that the government should be declaring lockdown but isn’t.)

This song is legitimately fun, but it’s WELL worth watching the video because the wordplay is exquisite.

And song #2 (yeah I’m not great on long playlists because I fall into a playlist black hole and I definitely don’t want to spend that much time focusing on the pandemic!)

Randy Rainbow does a lot of political parodies set to showtunes. And he has a gorgeous voice. This song is way, way better than the original (“Go the Distance” from Disney’s “Hercules”).

What songs are helping you cope at the moment, whether written specifically about awful sh*t or not?

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Lizzie by Lizzie

December 28, 2021 at 9:00 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s hard to take photos of Lizzie, because she finds eye contact overwhelming (including ‘eye’ contact with a camera). I have taken many thousands of photos of her, and hundreds of good ones.

She also likes taking pictures, especially of our cats. Ever since she was very small (3 or so) she’s enjoyed taking pictures, so it’s clearly not just a phase. For Christmas, I bought her a kids’ underwater camera (a pink one, obviously). It was $40 (not including a micro SD card, which it doesn’t work without!) so obviously not the greatest camera in the world.

But she’s taken over 400 pictures since she received it three weeks ago, and last night I sorted through them ALL and saved about 40 of them onto my computer. None of them are good, as such (not even the ones I took) but it was fascinating to see the photos she took of herself (I’m posting them in a small size because they blur as soon as they’re bigger than this).

As you can see, our cat Zipper is thrilled to be included.

This is a new swim top that goes with a mermaid tail. At nearly-ten years old it’s all about the magic, rather than the bikini body. But I hope her pride in a new swimsuit remains for many years to come.

This is a tricky angle. I’m impressed.

These are photos taken with a ragdoll cat that we looked after when the owners were travelling. I love the confident joy in the second picture.

A large chunk of the world hates teenage girls, especially if they’re beautiful—and especially especially if they know it. I hope I’ve given Lizzie a way to express herself creatively while also celebrating her own appearance. She loves figuring out her own identity, and treating herself as an artistic subject is a great way to give her armour against the many hateful messages that face her in the years ahead.

Also, she’s good at this stuff, and richly deserves the tools to continue building her skills.

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So Many Side Hustles

December 27, 2021 at 9:17 pm (Uncategorized)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person under forty with an interest outside of their career must attempt to make a living from that interest.

Leaving aside a discussion of that tragedy, here are some of my side hustles, and two central hustles as well.

Central Hustle #1: My family.

This is a Christmas photo featuring my daughter—and, in the background, my nephew.

It is fairly obvious that a fair chunk of my mental and physical energy goes directly to my family. As it should.

Central Hustle #2: Writing

This is a pretty arrangement of my magical steampunk trilogy (done by the publisher, Odyssey Books):

And this is my kids’ fantasy trilogy. The third cover may change, as the book isn’t out yet. NEARLY though.

Plus of course aaaaalllllllll my interactive fiction, which now outnumbers my regular novels.

This is my ‘day job’. I’m not well enough to work full-time, but when I feel guilty for not doing my work, writing is usually what I should be doing (or cleaning, but… well… cleaning, ugh).

Side Hustle #1: Shooting Through escape rooms.

This is somewhat… quiescent at present, due to several factors. Covid is one, my health is another, and the fact that I don’t have a place to put it is a third. Ideally I’ll hire someone to run it for me (and store it for me). But, you know, later.

Side Hustle #2: Murder in the Mail/Magic in the Mail

This was/is an interactive story system I invented, and it’s the reason I set myself up properly as a small business (which paid off big time because I received JobKeeper last year). Technically this side hustle is retired, but I still have a lot of stories to sell (and they’re all physical, and taking up space). The typical response from customers who stick around long enough to hear how they work is, “Oh, that’s so cool” and then not buying any.

Side Hustle #3: Aspergirl Adventures

This is a new one.

After paying off a particularly heinous debt (thanks to early withdrawal of my super due to disability), my family is going to go on some epic holidays to celebrate before buckling down to be responsible again (yay, adulthood). I watched a lot of YouTube videos to help me decide the best way to see the Great Barrier Reef (with my mental and physical issues, and two autistic kids), and it was often difficult to find the information I wanted. So I decided to do my own video series as we travel, and call it “Aspergirl Adventures” to represent Lizzie and I (since Chris and Tim are really not into taking photos and videos the way Lizzie and I are). In this one, I tested the wheelchair accessibility of Jillabenan Cave (one of the Yarrangobilly Caves in Kosciuszko National Park) and it was much more difficult than you would think—so I ended up providing valuable information to full-time wheelchair users.

Taking photos and videos and making each outing into a STORY helps me deal with issues as they arise, makes me more patient with the kids, and helps me deal with the very-predictable pain and injuries that are likely to happen pretty regularly for anyone with my chronic illnesses.

Will probably never make a cent.

Side Hustle #4: Babysitting

Every so often, I do a teensy bit of paid babysitting. I can cope with three hours pretty well, as long as it doesn’t happen often.

Side Hustle #5: Recumbent Bike hire?

We live right next to a funny little section of bike/walking track that is 300m long—perfect for someone learning to ride a bike. And we’re also less than 50m from a small nature reserve—perfect for someone to get some pleasant regular bike rides in. Last year, a disabled friend ‘lent’ (and later officially gave) me a recumbent trike with a pedal assist motor. I was extremely doubtful—I didn’t even own a pair of pants!—but once I got the hang of it I fell in love. When the weather permits, I typically ride 5-10 ks two or three times a week. Recumbent bikes are EXPENSIVE but a lot of people are curious about them, so I’ve had the idea to hire my bike out to people who want to know if it’s something that might work for them. Haven’t actually done anything about it, but will probably post something in a local facebook group or two (I’m in several) once 2022 arrives.

Side Hustle #6: Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Group

Not exactly a hustle since I’ll never get paid for it, but still absolutely a hustle as I’m constantly fundraising. The web site is here and the ongoing GoFundMe is here. And yeah, I’ve made several videos about refugee sponsorship too (the organisation that guides us, Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia, asked us to provide footage where we could, and even provided a quick tutorial). That’s what really got me into making videos.

Side Hustle #7: Art by Qusay Fadheel

One of the refugee we mentored is is a talented artist, so I run an Etsy shop for him. It’s here (prints and postcards only, since he’s moved to Sydney due to having a better support network there).

Side Hustle #8: West Belco Food Pantry

I started running a food pantry on my porch during the first Canberra lockdown, and about fifteen families regularly come and get some food now. I buy lots of fresh milk each week (my pantry has an outside fridge and freezer) and also shop at a different (church-backed) food pantry each week, so it doesn’t cost me much to keep it stocked (including meat, and usually fresh fruit and veggies). I go through milk pretty quickly, so I check the fridge at least once a day to see if it needs replacing (I only put out one bottle of milk at a time or I’d run out and/or have to go shopping almost every day). People often make donations—fruit and vegetables from their own gardens, gifts of toys and random pantry items, leftovers from Hello Fresh, etc—and I regularly take items from the pantry for my own household (eg today we cooked risotto and when we realised we had no home-made stock we took a liquid ‘Thai noodle soup’ stock carton from the pantry—delicious). It’s quite fun, although it does cost a fair bit in both money and energy.

Side Hustle #9: Platypus Playgroup

I have friends with small children (and the isolation that comes with that), and the local church (Kippax Uniting) does a whole lot of great community things, but their excellent playgroup space fell out of use during covid lockdowns and then they couldn’t afford to pay a supervisor to get it going again. So I stepped in (unpaid), and between my friend Clarissa and I, we run a playgroup two mornings a week during school terms. Luckily I’ve found a volunteer to take the ‘first thing Monday’ shift, because two days in a row was too much for me!

This is the only hustle that doesn’t involve money at all.

Side Hustle #10: The Castle

Before I was able to form the Castle of Kindness, I dreamed a large and complicated dream.

I want to help design an enormous house that looks like a castle (basically a square, with towers and crenelations and a flat roof) that has one giant room on the bottom floor (for events and for emergency accommodation for disabled/autistic people), and adjustable living quarters on the other two floors (so various combinations of people can live there, eg 2 singles and a 3-kid family; 5 singles; etc). It would be accessible for wheelchair users as well as people who are Hard of Hearing or have Low Vision or temperature sensitivity or smoke sensitivity. It would have Aboriginal art inside and out, and facilities for cooking lessons or big movie nights, and maybe even an inside pool and/or spa (gentle exercise and/or pain relief). It would have solar power including a battery (so it was insured against power outages), and be as bushfire and storm safe as a house can be.

I reckon it would cost about 2 million to build, plus about a million just for the land. Because ideally it would be near my house—a great location for disabled people, as the Kippax shopping (and medical) centres are close by, and there are several great local community organisations here too.

This hustle has a building designer on board, and that’s about as far as I’ve gotten (not nothing). But it’s something Canberra needs, and whoever manages to build it will make a massive profit from renting both the living spaces and the conference spaces (the lower room and the roof—and presumably the yard too). It would be a great place for disabled refugees to live—within a mini community that could hopefully help one another (and they could also be hired as event organisers, cleaners, or gardeners—or they could run cooking classes, art exhibitions, etc).

So that’s my two life hustles and my ten side hustles. Yikes.

Here’s a cat—a blond ragdoll named Snow.

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IF Comp 2021: Review of “Universal Hologram”

November 13, 2021 at 2:44 pm (Uncategorized)

Last but not least…


I’m a little leery of scifi and of anything artsy, so let’s see how we go!

. . .

Ah, the writing instantly draws me in. Within minutes I’ve lost my sense of reality so thoroughly that when the test gives me an option to “look down” I don’t click on it. I physically look down at my lap.

This is gonna be quite a ride. . .

. . .

“…the energy signal of your soul blooms like a fiber optic flower…”

This person writes beautifully.

. . .

Aaand I’ve finished the game.

That was a TRIP you guys. The art and animations added greatly to the discombobulation and for a while I was happy to just mooch about here and there, feeling weirder and weirder. I had juust enough time to wonder if there was a point to it all when the game noticeably steered me towards a plot, which I followed for the rest of the story.

A lot of the time I only had one thing to click on, and I’m pretty sure all roads lead to the same main ending. It definitely made me feel things, though. There was worldbuilding, and humour, and decent characterisation.

I’ll give it an 8.

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IF Comp 2021: Review of “The Golden Heist”

November 9, 2021 at 12:04 am (Uncategorized)



But yay!

But nooooo!

This game is really, really good. I reckon it will outrank mine, and mine is really good too. So rather than pretending to be all classy and professional, and purely celebrating this excellent achievement, I’ve decided to admit to that worm of jealousy eating at my insides.

Dear Reader, this game is EXCELLENT.

It is funny, with great characters, neat branching, compelling writing, and an exciting plot with plenty of twists and turns.

I found a few extremely minor typos, and some very minor continuity errors (we never searched for extra loot but somehow my companion had some at the end). None of them were a big deal. The story is so good, and the characters too. Ooh, and the setting.

Yes, I’m basically just listing the elements of a game and saying that every single one was excellent.

I even liked the PUZZLE (partly because it was fundamentally voluntary) you guys.

I’m giving this game a score of 9. Seriously good AND seriously fun.

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IF Comp 2021: Review of “An Aside About Everything”

November 2, 2021 at 10:12 pm (Uncategorized)

I feel. . .

Melancholy. Confused, but serene in my confusion—a little bored, perhaps. Defensive. Trapped. Freed. Lost, but on a familiar path. Not the same path I’ve been before, but similar enough that I feel only wary rather than afraid.

This is a strange one, but not because the game sucks. It’s meant to be trippy, and it most definitely is that.

Earlier today, I attempted to set up an app thingy online so that I can accept credit card payments on my phone (eg when I’m selling my novels at a festival). This is something that has been on my “urgent” list since May, but I’ve been too afraid of facing it. And today, when I finally faced it and failed over and over again…. that’s exactly how parser makes me feel.

So when this game has the teensiest hint of parser stylings (in the sense that you walk around and choose which location to go to) I was afraid. But since you go to all the locations anyway, and there’s never more than three to keep track of (really one central hub with two or three locations to explore from there) I was quickly reassured. This game is truly choice-based in the end, with two flaws: one is that there are no obvious branches, so it’s not VERY interactive (in my interpretation of the term). Two, you sometimes have to negotiate (a teeny tiny bit) through a ‘hub’ location (eg Main Street), which is the second thing I hate about parser: I hate EVER having to re-read a paragraph. But that secondary hatred is really minor, in the end.

I’m going to give this game a 6. It seems unfair in many ways to give this fundamentally competent and functional game the same score as two somewhat broken games, but although it’s solid and even lyrical in style it ultimately feels fairly average. There are quite a few minor typos or grammar things but I feel like the point it’s making about the selfishness/self-absorption of the main character contradicts itself because there are no plausible options to be better.

As always, this is 100% my opinion and I don’t claim to be fair.

The atmosphere of the story is good, with above-average writing.

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IF Comp 2021: Review of “The Library”

October 23, 2021 at 8:46 pm (Uncategorized)

For the second time, I found a game that…

  • described itself as choice-based but was parser at its heart (in my opinion).
  • I was unable to finish due to technical issues.

I love a magical library, and this one is great. I wouldn’t describe it as a “nightmare”. I mean, sure, you’re asleep—and you might commit a murder if the situation calls for it—but it was definitely funny and playful rather than scary or horrifying.

Unfortunately, the language isn’t flawless. This is probably another person writing in their second (or third, or very possibly fifth or more—being multilingual is SO COOL you guys) language. It’s ALMOST right most of the time (and I noticed that the first few adventures are slightly more polished than later chapters), and it’s usually easy to tell what the writer means and what is going on.

So it’s a significant flaw, but all it needs is a couple of intense drafts (probably by paid English speakers) to fix.

As I keep saying, I am allergic to parser. It makes me cry. And this game is parser trying very hard to feel natural. It doesn’t always succeed, but a big part of me appreciates the attempt—having buttons to choose instead of needing to type directions made things a lot easier for me.

But still, it’s parser, and my brain does NOT like that. I’m all about the story, not the puzzles. So I quickly headed over to the walkthrough, which worked really well for ALMOST the whole game. I hit a game-breaking bug quite early on, and restarted—but when I hit another one very close to the end I wasn’t willing to risk it happening a third time. Plus I felt I had a pretty good grasp on the game.

Game breaking bugs get a fail mark, and frequent language errors get another two points off. So at this point it scores 3.


The central concept—taking items from one famous book to fix problems in another—is utterly brilliant, totally hilarious, and charmingly done. I can see the writer put a lot of thought into how the game works and what goes where. It made me wish I’d thought of the idea. I really enjoyed it.

So I’m giving it a 6, just like “Recon”. Two games that showed genuinely amazing potential but failed in both language and execution. This writer is definitely one to watch in years to come.

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IF Comp 2021: Review of “Recon”

October 17, 2021 at 12:40 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve been given some paid editing work, which is a bit too similar to reviewing games for my liking (sitting in a chair reading on my laptop and keeping my editor-brain engaged) BUT I’m still going to try to review five games.

I sorted the games into Choice-based games under 1 hour (parser makes me cry, and I know I can’t concentrate for more than an hour anytime soon). That gave me 12 games. I dropped “Fine Felines” on account of being the author; dropped “we, the remainder” thanks to the content warning (THANK YOU for not letting me wander into something traumatic); dropped “The Waiting Room” for being horror (I am a DELICATE FLOWER people!); dropped “extraordinary_fandoms.exe” for abusive stuff; “Weird Grief” for being about grief; “The Last Night of Alexisgrad” for being two-player; “Mermaids of Ganymede” for body horror, and “Walking Into It” for being puzzle-y.

That leaves “Universal Hologram” (6), “An Aside About Everything” (4), “The Golden Heist”(6), “Recon” (2), and “The Library” (3).

Five games, assuming I’m able to make them all work (which is highly unlikely; I’m remarkably bad at technical stuff). The numbers in brackets above indicate how many reviews each game has received and therefore the order in which I’ll attempt them.

I’m not looking at names, because (a) I’m extremely forgetful, so I might well not recognise the user name of someone I consider a friend, and that would be awkward, and (b) Less bias 🙂


This is an intensely confusing game. The language is sufficiently mistake-filled that I sometimes can’t tell what the writer is trying to say. But an even worse thing, for me, is that the game is filled with puzzles. It’s not the writer’s fault that I hate puzzles with a fiery passion (to their credit, the writer provided a walkthrough—which I did use), but there should have been an indication of the game’s puzzly nature in the blurb.

So I’m inclined to give the game a failing mark of 3 stars (out of 10)… except it’s not the writer’s fault that I hate puzzles so much. So then I’d give it a 5. But despite the extremely flawed English, it’s clear that the writer is actually very very good. It’s an interesting and fully-realised setting, and there are lots of glimmers of brilliance here and there (in my first play-through I thought the black colour of the hyperlink on a certain page was an error and in the second I realised there was a plot reason to hide the button—neat). So in the end I’ll give it 6 for a brilliant but broken game. Hopefully the writer will keep improving their English because they’re a valuable addition to the IF world.

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Am I a “Bad Art Friend”?

October 6, 2021 at 8:40 pm (Uncategorized)

A bit, yeah. But no.

This is a tale of two female writers, written about in detail (with twists) by the New York Times, here.

I’ll tell this story in chronological order rather than the unfolding story of the article.

Writer #1: Dawn Dorland. Sunny, generous, and extra. White. Not a super successful writer.

Writer #2: Sonya Larson. Hard worker/community member. Asian heritage. Successful writer.

Dorland and Larson were in the same writers’ group and attended many of the same events for more than eight years. Dorland thought Larson was a good friend of hers.

Dawn donated a kidney to a stranger, just because she could. She made a private FaceBook group of friends and family, including Larson, to talk about it. She also shared the letter she wrote to the recipient of her kidney, saying why she felt motivated to donate to a stranger (mostly, because her very poor childhood made her extra empathetic, and so she loved that stranger and thought about them and their life with great joy and care). She also posted about her “kidneyversary” a year later. And she became a public face of live organ donation.

Early on, shortly after her surgery, she thought it was strange that not everyone in her private FaceBook group had commented positively about her choice to donate a kidney. She messaged Larson specifically, “confirming” that Larson was aware of what she’d done. Larson wrote back saying that Dorland had given a tremendous gift.

Meanwhile, several members of the writing circles Dorland was in were mocking her obvious need for affirmation about her kidney donation, sending hundreds of emails back and forth sharing how uncomfortable they felt and how Dorland came across as so needy.

And yeah, kids. I can understand starting a private FaceBook group to talk about a scary surgery and a tough recovery (possibly even coordinating meal delivery or something like that), but hinting at an individual person for more praise is clearly a bit weird. (Unless it’s with immediate family or VERY close friends, and acknowledging what you’re doing.)

Dorland is clearly someone who desperately needs affirmation. And that’s awkward and annoying but…. fundamentally harmless. If I needed a kidney and had to tell someone she was the greatest, kindest person ever every day for the rest of my life in order to get that kidney, it would be super annoying but worth it.

People aren’t just one thing. Dorland is generous and empathetic towards strangers, but she’s also super needy. Both of those things are true.

Clearly, a lot of people found Dorland annoying, including Larson, and I’m sure had found her annoying for years without her knowing. I’ve been in writer groups. There are always plenty of weirdos. I’m one kind of weirdo, and I’m aware that not everyone will like my company. If you put twenty of my acquaintances in front of me, I could probably say which ones feel neutral/negative about me. But I’d get some wrong, too.

So far, this is awkward but not newsworthy (I mean, it’s worth writing news stories about Dorland’s donation, but not about the dynamics of her writing group). And having a bunch of people mocking you for hundreds of pages behind your back probably means it’s not a group filled with kindness. On the other hand, they didn’t think up a pretext to chuck her out, so they could have been worse.


Larson, who specialises in characters who are painfully lacking in self-awareness, wrote a story called “Kindness”. It’s about an Asian American woman with a drinking problem who is in a car accident and needs a kidney donation. Her friends hope that the near-death experience will motivate her to get over alcohol and be a better person. A white American woman donates a kidney, and also writes a letter about her motivation. But as the story unfolds it becomes clear that the white woman has a bad case of White Savior syndrome, and wants to have power over the Asian American woman. The Asian American woman defiantly refuses to change anything about who she is. And that’s the story.

And yeah, it was very very obviously based on Dawn. In the first draft, her name was used and her letter was used, verbatim. (In one of the emails, Larson said she was trying to change the text of the letter, but it was just “too perfect”. She did change it, but it was still very recogniseable.)

Larson didn’t tell Dorland anything about the story. Dorland discovered its existence because of a mutual friend, who was aware the story was about a donated kidney and that Dorland had donated a kidney.

Dorland was furious, and became more so as more details came to light. Specifically, her letter was still recogniseable. And yet Larson had barely acknowledged her kidney donation in real life.

When she spoke to Larson about it, Larson said that the whole idea of kidney donation was inspired by Dorland’s generosity, but that was all. That was a lie she stuck to for a long time (until the emails came to light). Much gaslighting occurred.

Dorland took legal action, which is still ongoing (and complicated eg a writer’s letters ARE protected by copyright, but satire is legal). And complex.

At one stage, Larson pointed out that the story is FICTION. It is art. All friends of writers know that some details from them and their life may end up in fiction, but it doesn’t mean anything and the writer doesn’t owe their friends anything. Larson said Dorland is a “bad art friend”.

Dorland continues to attack Larson through legal channels, feeling violated at having her words and her life made public without her consent.

Larson and others (no one seems to be saying anything in Dorland’s defence) are extremely uncomfortable about how Dorland is turning Larson’s story into “that story about kidney donation” when it’s actually not about kidney donation at all. It’s about White Saviour stuff. The white lady in the story isn’t even the main character. More than one person has said that Dorland seems to be more interested in tearing another person down than actually writing her own stuff (to be fair, suing people is way more profitable than trying to make it as a writer).

And there’s a whole extra layer of racism, as a white woman claims that her words are what makes the story special…. when actually, it’s the Asian American woman’s story that makes the white woman’s words special (and the words in the letter have gone through several drafts, too, and are now quite different).

So yeah, Dorland is absolutely a “bad art friend”. She’s also clueless (about who is actually friends with her, and about her own motivations), vindictive/sensitive (to keep fighting this), and has a childish need to be praised.

And Larson was never her friend.

I have writer friends (and non-writer friends), and it’s complicated. I once wrote a novel that was literally about a single party that I went to (with flashes back and forward in time). It was obviously based on a particular friendship group, including a person who self-harmed after manic episodes and a trans woman. If you knew this group at all, you’d obviously recognise precisely who those characters were based on. I did change the names, but appearances, relationships, and much more were the same. So I approached several people and explained what I’d done, offering to have them read all the sections in which they were mentioned (and/or the whole book) and let me know if I needed to change things. That wasn’t easy, but it was definitely necessary. There are obvious ethics at play there, and possibly legal stuff (although the worst stuff I did was say one person was overweight, and have some people have crushes on people that were either secret or nonexistent… and would be old news by the time the book was published).

I often hesitate to read books by people I know, in case I hate the book and it’s awkward. But to be honest, it’s happened plenty of times and although I’ve sometimes told people what I didn’t like about their books (because I thought they could take it, or because I’d promised to tell them what I thought) I usually just stay quiet. And I never, ever ask someone I know what they thought about MY books, either. If they write a public review, though, I read it—and often edit the book based on things they say that are negative. (Bad reviews don’t bother me, unless they mention a legitimate flaw in the book—and I don’t blame the reviewer for that.)

So, that’s a social complication in writer-town. The other one is the successful/not divide. Basically, I try not to give advice to any writer about writing because they’re probably better than me. The exception is when I’m teaching a class or running a panel, or if someone asks a question (most often, “Did you say you get PAID for interactive fiction? Tell me more.”) I also try to be super polite and respectful to everyone at writer cons (unless they’re someone I think I know well, in which case I relax without being insulting). I have a terrible memory so I could easily be talking to an acquisitions editor, internationally best-selling author, or publisher. The whole world of writing and publishing is extremely insular anyway, so I would never be horrid to anyone because you can get blacklisted for that. (Speaking of which, I bet Dorland either gets published now, while she’s infamous, or absolutely never. I certainly wouldn’t want to be near her.) I have had a couple of one-on-one conversations about other writers who have insulted people, but that wasn’t to laugh at them; it was to comfort their victims.

We writers do sometimes size each other up by either genre* or level of publishing success (in this order: not published, self-published, short stories published, published by a small press, successfully self-published, published by a large press, Holy Crap I’ve Heard Of You).

Genre: I tend to lose interest if they write literary fiction or nonfiction, to admire them but not read them if they write horror, romance, or realist/thriller fiction, and to light up if they write fantasy.

So there’s lots of social complexity to navigate. Larson was a bit douchy, but it’s a good enough story that it was worth losing the friendship of someone she never actually liked.

Dorland has issues. She is indeed a bad art friend, but since Larson was never actually her friend I’d be sympathetic if Dorland hadn’t kept pushing and pushing, making things difficult for Larson.

I relate more to Dorland in this story. I’m hyper empathetic, which I consider both a deep part of me and something that is part of my suite of mental illness. I’ve thought about randomly donating a kidney myself in the past, but quickly realised my health isn’t up to it. So I run a free food pantry (which I can’t really afford, oops) and a refugee sponsorship group (which is often hard work). Those two things are necessary for me to feel “okay” about… well, existing. In my privileged white person space.

That’s where Dorland and I diverge. She is cheerfully tearing down an Asian woman over a minor slight (I know Dorland is very upset and feels violated about it all, but she’s being very precious about a minor thing), and seems amazingly unaware of her own mixed-up motivations for donating a kidney.

Unlike her, I KNOW I have a White Saviour complex. (Go ahead and satirise me in your fiction all you like—just please change my name.) I know that a big part of my charitable activity is purely to feel like a “good person” and another part is to feel “in control”, particularly during a pandemic.

I largely accept these mixed-up motivations in myself, because I think the end result is worth it. I also *love* weighing in on moral discussions like this, which presumably is also motivated by my self-image as a “good person”. And a reasonably self-aware person. Probably the most dangerous part of my own White Saviour complex is that I often have power over people (eg the refugees I meet may depend on me for important cultural or legal knowledge—the goal of sponsorship is to increase their power and knowledge until they don’t need help any more).

So yeah, I’m a White Saviour type. But I try not to be an asshole about it.

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IF Comp 2021: Cover Image Reviews Part 2

October 3, 2021 at 12:31 am (Uncategorized)

Part 1 is here. This is the second and final part.

Keep in mind that blurbs are displayed RIGHT NEXT to cover images, and I’m deliberately ignoring them.


Mermaids of Ganymede

Space mermaids? Uh, YES PLEASE. The cover image isn’t complex or super polished, and it absolutely does not have to be. Sometimes a concept, expressed in the simplest possible terms, is just a winner. The title and cover are both simple and perfect.

The Miller’s Garden

Looks and sounds like a simple medieval-ish setting. The picture is beautiful and peaceful, and I bet the story is too.

As a novelist, I’m always looking for conflict. Who needs a punch? Who’s about to die for love? Who is a nice hateable villain and how do we kill them dead? One of the interesting differences between “normal” novels and interactive novels is that some interactive novels simply don’t need conflict. At all. Some don’t even need goals. The subject of the title—”Garden”—suggest this might be one of those games. Something that is a meandering experience rather than a dramatic tale.

Sounds excellent.

My Gender Is a Fish

Be still my bisexual heart.

This looks like an “experiential” game, possibly designed to help the poor limited straights know a bit of what life is like for LGBTIQA+ folk (are those trans colours? I hope so). Crossed with absurdist humour (everyone knows fish are funny). Very excellent, if so.

The cover uses symbols well, and verges on iconic for that reason. But it doesn’t technically look good. Maybe the overall balance is off, or something. But it’s super readable and memorable, which are the two most important things in a cover. (And it meshes perfectly with the title.)

Off-Season at the Dream Factory

That title is so intriguing—twice over. “Dream Factory” is already an interesting juxtaposition of concepts that immediately makes me wonder what the factory is like. Then “Off-Season” adds even more spice. And humour.

The image is nice and bucolic. The kind of setting that a lot of dreams are made of. But it’s a slightly wasted opportunity, because dreams could be super bonkers. Is there magic? Are there robots? Romance? Nightmares? All of the above?

It’s a lot easier to write about interesting worlds than to illustrate them all, so I suspect the writer simply chose not to waste time/money on the cover when they could do something that was adequate enough. Which this is. It’s the title that packs a real punch, and it’s extremely likely I’ll give this game a go.

A Papal Summons, or The Church Cat

Hmm. Two very different titles mashed into one (and I notw with disapproval the iffy choice to have lower-case on the cover for title #2 but upper-case for the actual title version of the two titles).

The only thing both titles have in common is that they both sound medievalish, and have a link to church/the Church.

“A Papal Summons” sounds ominous, possibly involving complicated and heartless church politics and power struggles. Great setting, but one I don’t personally like. “The Church Cat” sounds like a sweet, small-scale, possibly kid-oriented tale. Which of course appeals to me.

But the cover screams: power, politics, and possibly murder. (Is the author’s name really “Bitter”? That is cool and highly appropriate.) I prefer lots of cheerful and bloody murder to politicking. Murder is natural, politics is depraved. (Apologies to all the politicians out there slogging through the swamp to try to make the world better.)

Hate politics, love cats. But the cover leans more to the ‘political’, so I’ll give this one a miss unless the blurb is something very different.

A Paradox Between Worlds

I beta tested this, but I shall empty my brain of all knowledge before proceeding.

Major points off for having a different title in the image to the actual title.

Once again, we have a cover that screams “scifi” and “clever” while also using pink (which to me signals that there will be some diversity, which the genre badly needs). It’s obviously set in space, probably travelling in a spaceship of some kind (but not a cartoonish spaceship, a serious intellectual space ship). The characters are secondary to the plot.

(I happen to know that almost everything I just said is wildly incorrect. But I’m sure the blurb makes that clear.)

Plane Walker

Hmm. Plane schematics. Looks puzzly, and possibly quite hard. I’m out.

Also, it looks pretty awesome and interesting, probably with cool engineering-type challenges that teach you about the innards of planes. Which I suspect will be popular.


Another puzzly one I think. The cover looks kind of awesome, but also kind of crowded. I like the contrast of light and dark. And I’m very glad there’s a face in there, because otherwise it would be dull. It looks like it might be influenced by anime like the original Ghost in the Shell. Thematically it could be something about humanity being crushed inside a highly technological society? Or inside an army, since “Recon” sounds like a military term?

Not sure what it is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not for me just because I’m not into puzzles, hard scifi, or military stuff.

RetroCON 2021

The janky picture has ‘retro’ written all over it, both literally and figuratively. Flawless match of title and image style, and the fonts are beautifully awkward too.

So, humour and nostalgia. I suspect it’ll be packed with affectionate references to IF from years and decades past—which means it’s not for me, because I haven’t been around that long and I’d miss loads of jokes and feel dumb as a result.

As noted in Part 1, putting the year in the title dates a game almost instantly. But in this case, why not?

Second Wind

Super crowded image, but on the up side it gives me a bunch of clues about the game. Scifi, puzzly, with a fierce alien to fight and a lady to rescue and/or mind after her injury and/or make cry.

There’s a lot of art there, which makes me think the story might be illustrated.

Silicon and Cells: Machina Ex Deus

It’s… okay, I suppose. The “ili” in “Silicon” is tricky to read, and the words feel off-balance in the image. But the font and the starry background say “scifi”… and yet again we have an intellectual/space-ish scifi that has pink in it. That’s three.

I don’t think the author spent a bunch of time on it, so good for them (since covers are not part of the judging process).

The subtitle, flipping deus ex machina, is by far the most interesting part, and the most likely thing to make me want to read it.

Smart Theory

Looks like some kind of corporate espionage setting, involving people stealing a theory from their competition? (Or more likely, the people with the theory defending it from another company trying to steal it.)

It’s a nice ominous image that rewards you for looking deeper. But it’s impossible to read the text in most settings.

The Song of the Mockingbird

Pretty lady!

Like many others, I’m a sucker for a pretty lady. It’s a simply gorgeous image, and her facial expression is immediately interesting (fierce? or tragic?).

The scroll in the upper corner is nice, but the title on it is barely legible due to size and font choice.

Based on picture alone, I’m assuming the dancer is the mockingbird. Mockingbirds have great literary implications (“To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Mockingjay” immediately come to mind). But there’s a strong implication of tragedy, which makes her facial expression definitely fall on the “tragic” side.

Is the lady pretty enough to overcome my aversion to anything emotionally heavy? Probably not.

The Spirit Within Us

Creepy and thoughtful. The ye olde lettering with spidery outliers is excellent, and fits the blurred picture nicely. It suggests something introspective, something scary, and possibly something philosophical or spiritual… three things that put me off, but will draw others in. The visual composition is perfect, making the reader slightly off balance and as they try to figure out what the image is. Which is perfect for this story (if it’s what I think it is).


This image gives me almost no information. It’s a… filing cabinet? With mostly blank labels, but pastels instead of black or beige. Files would suggest a police case, but pastels suggest a uni student enjoying their stationary (possibly to put off doing real work). But the title suggests space wars.

So, I have no idea what’s going on. The pastel colours look nice together, but that’s about all I can say about this image. When you haven’t figured out yet that it’s files, it looks like kids’ candy cigarettes.


Childhood best friends in a photo frame (a boy and girl facing away from camera—perfect for self-insertion so long as the reader is white). Old-fashioned wallpaper. Bees.

The bees look kind of sweet, especially with the dotted lines. If not for that, I’d suspect the childhood best friends were torn apart when one of them had a fatal reaction to a bee sting.

Instead, I think that it will be a bittersweet and nostalgic tale of a happy childhood (the bitter part being that childhood is gone).

Taste of Fingers


This image is immediately compelling and scary. The font is perfect (it’s weird how many fonts look amateurish); the frame and rain and handprint are all perfect.

The title strongly implies cannibalism. The rain implies… depression? The darkness of the human soul and/or condition?

This isn’t for me, but I bet it’s extremely well-written. This image screams “professionalism”.

This Won’t Make You Happy

This cover is yelling at me to go away, which I will absolutely do. It will definitely attract a bunch of people, though. It’s simple and iconic and the pixelated text harks back to the Zork era—which, again, is repulsive to me and attractive to many. It also suggests that it’s parser based.

So this cover that cost nothing and took about thirty seconds to make works just fine. Partly because of the killer title.


No cover. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

But how would a computer design a cover? They don’t know how to do art. They can’t understand the inexplicable social associations of colour choices, fonts, and images. So it kind of works to have to cover for this one.


The title immediately suggests something sad or bad. That and the planetary imagery immediately makes me think of The Fault in our Stars. So… teens dying of cancer? Not my bag, but a lot of people like something deep (and possibly thoughtful).

The cover is quite visually appealing, although the font is a little hard to read (while at the same time being unique and adding to the artsy/bittersweet/tragic teen vibe).

Universal Hologram

Is that a FOURTH pink-tinged scifi tale? I’m not 100% sure it’s scifi, but the title sure sounds like it, and that… sculpture?… looks a little like DNA.

I’m gonna say… arty scifi? Cool combo if so.

The Vaults

Yesssss! A creepy underground chamber holding mysterious treasures? Sounds grand. Vaults are immediately interesting, because you already have a mystery (What’s in it?) and a problem (How do we get in?)

As a setting, it lends itself to a puzzly game. Especially since it’s plural (vaultS).

The image is kind of cool, but a little hard to make out. I don’t like the modern-style “VAULTS” logo on the bottom left, which breaks the sense of ancient mystery from the main picture.


I’m super confused by everything here. What on earth is a wabewalker? The lines above the title suggest something to do with puppets, either literally or metaphorically (serial killer puppetmaster genius?)

The TV screen suggests retro.

The golden thing in the middle looks like maybe a coffin or sarcophagus?

The people in robes look like they might have masks on?

Is it all subtle hints to in-game puzzles? Puzzle types might like it, if so. I sure don’t.

The Waiting Room

Creepy and excellent. Too scary for me, definitely. Black and white and blurry is excellent. Font is good. Composition is nice, and the vanishing point style adds to the creep factor. I bed there’s body horror, because hospitals are deeply scary and how could you resist? (I mean, if you’re not me.)

Walking Into It

No cover, no problem!

The title tells us almost nothing (it implies a social faux pas). The subtitle gives us plenty of information, but the “adult-helping-child” and the “/” gives it a clumsy feeling that makes me think it might have more clumsy phrasing inside. (I join words with dashes a BUNCH, but not in a subtitle. Subtitles should be crisp.)

we, the remainder

This image is really really hard to see. I like a little bit of mystery, but not that much. It’s a hooded angel with a sword. The courier font harks back to old-school parser games. It is, I grudgingly admit, a little bit cool. But definitely not my scene (which probably means it’s weeded out those who would hate the game, as a good cover should).

Weird Grief: Mourning is hard. A story of grief, sex, and escapism.

By now y’all know that the simple word “grief” will have me running for the hills. The face in the question mark is super cool. Other than that, there’s nothing much in the image. Nor does it need much.

I like the title though, which immediately says “good writing” because grief IS weird, so the writer has either been through grief themself, or is a good enough writer to know that emotions are messy. The “grief, sex, and escapism” also says “good writing”…. but the “Mourning is hard.” part of the subtitle is super obvious and should have been cut.

The “ei” and “ie” in “Weird Grief” have a cool mirror-like effect.

Normally, a question mark would mean it’s a mystery of some sort, which I don’t think is true here. I’m not sure what a question mark has to do with grief.

What Heart Heard of, Ghost Guessed

I hate the title with a fiery passion. It’s either poetic or badly written. I’m guessing poetic. And yup, there’s another thing I hate. Ew, poetry. The font also strongly implies poetry, as does the image of a hand against a windowpane in autumn.

Yeah, I’m getting “poetry” loud and clear from the title, image, and font. So, many points for consistency. That should help it find the right audience (aka not me).

What remains of me: An exploration of my old home in search for an objective in life, the way I observe the world, with thoughtfulness and humour.

Another poetic title, that also sounds like it’s reflective and/or sad.

At the same time, it’s another very old-school-game-looking image, which sends me running but will attract many.

That subtitle is a LOT. It’s way too long, and it also tells the reader that it’s thoughtful and humourous, instead of letting them discover the thoughtfulness and humour for themself.

It sounds very personal, too. Whether that’s good or bad depends very much on the reader.

You are SpamZapper 3.1

That sounds GREAT. “SpamZapper” is such a fun word, and it also tells us that the story is about stopping spam. The hands all pointing inward look cool, although I dislike the janky look of the central puzzle piece.

I’m guessing this is a fun puzzler.

Wow! That’s all seventy-one entries. Even such an arbritrary and deliberately under-informed look at this list of games makes it immediately obvious that this is going to be a great year with everything from humour to kids’ stories to horror and poetry.

I love the IF Comp.

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