Estalia Preview 2: Indigo Girls

I can now reveal the book will be called Swords of the South. In our last installment we had a little bit of fiction. This time, I wanted to include one of the very few but very beautiful pieces of art we were donated by the amazing Jon Shai, and the text that goes with:

Prior to the discovery of the amazing indigo plant, purple dye could only be manufactured from certain obscure mushrooms grown in goblin-infested caves, or from the gizzards of the giant sand-clam. Thus until recently (and still very much the case in the Empire), only the fabulously wealthy or highly titled could afford to wear the colour, and it was a clear sign of great power. With ships returning from Lustria stocked with the new purple flower, however, visitors to Estalia will be shocked and confused to see the colour everywhere.  It is particularly popular with young women, always keen to have the newest fashions and styles – and thus also no longer impressed by the traditional overtures of uncultured soldiers or untraveled sailors. This increasing class of more demanding women has been nicknamed “Indigo Girls” for their ubiquitous fashion choice.

Indigo Girl


Adventures at Bezerka Con

I’m not a rich man. I’m not even a not poor man. Which means I ache when I go to conventions: I want to support all the amazing people who create a space of creation and sharing and selling. My grandfather used to go to markets to sell his woodwork and he said one day he’d get his revenge by going to their stalls and walking around with his hands in his pockets – his turn of phrase for perpetual browsers. But what I can do is connect people. My superpower is to be the nexus, to link your needs to the people who can fulfill them. So here’s all the amazing things I saw at BezerkaCon.

  • And first of all, the first amazing thing was Bezerka Con itself! It was held in beautiful Balmain in a lovely venue, the strange layout of which were instantly fixed by excellent dedication to first class signage. It was the Other Kind of Con – some cons, especially RPG cons are places so devoted to quality RPGing and LARPing that the whole event is about sequestering people away in separate rooms for intense gaming experiences. Those kind of cons are amazing for getting the best quality players to the best quality of games, and SydCon and EyeCon do them very well. The Other Kind of Con comes from a different place, where people can get RPGs at home and come for special events, one-offs and a shared, festival atmosphere in a central hall where swag is plentiful and shopping common (so you can see things you’ve never expected like rings which are dice). Bezerka Con had this approach, hence all my links below, but that doesn’t even cover the robot fighting game or the amazing raffles (yes that’s a pillow in the form of Alastair from Dragon Age) or the paint-and-take fun from the ever-reliable guys at Reaper. I missed the cosplay on Saturday but they are better seen in main halls, as are little costume touches and amazing 1980s board games including this He-Man pop-up masterwork.  Can’t wait till next time in July or so.
  • The dice ring is from, by the way, and are amazingly cool, and come in d6s and d100s and many colours. I also saw some precious metal and semi-precious stone dice creations from the amazing people at Level Up Dice – dice so precious they come with a suede-lined box so you can roll them without damaging. That link doesn’t link to their catalogue of merchandise because they prefer to sell in person because who buys jewellery on the internet? It’s more precious than that.
  • That’s dice made of jewellery, but if you want jewellery made of dice like these amazing pieces, you want – yes, guys it includes cufflinks and belt clips. Hannah ran the con too and her grandmother makes crochet and knitted things in the shape of pretty much anything (note the dragons, unicorns and tiny Cthulhus down the bottom) which is why they call her Clever Bev.
  • Over in the artist’s gallery we had pieces like this from the amazing Lyndsay Harper and these (which unfortunately I blurred terribly in the photo) gorgeous anime-style pics and creations from She Bites. Want to do some arting yourself but need some help? Mel Schwarz has you covered with gorgeous colouring books of dragons.
  • If you prefer the written word to the drawn picture, though, Assaph Mehr was selling his new novel of murder mystery and investigation set in a Roman empire powered by magic: Murder in Absentia, from Egretia publishing.

I’ve definitely missed somebody out, so no offence intended to those lovely people! Keep making magical things and I will keep doing what I can to throw them into the faces of people who need them!

An Open Letter To Anyone On A Dating Site

Science tells us that most of our long-lasting intimate associations begin with regular spontaneous interaction in a shared environment, which is why the majority of all our relationships begin at work or in education, with number two being hobbies and activities. Number three is through friends in common, number four is randomly running into people on the street, number five is structured singles meetings in person and number six is, you guessed it, internet singles meeting structures.

You can see why the first three occur: we typically work and play and socialize with people who share our age group, socio-economic and education levels and backgrounds, which does the ground work for you. Theoretically, structures like speed dating and internet dating are designed to quickly identify people with whom you share such things, so you can meet more of them. And yet those things are outperformed by people just running into each other one day at the post office or a night club. Obviously, there are issues with the internet: yes, online relationships are very real but we are biological creatures who react very strongly to physical presence, to sight and smell and sound and the occupying mass of other people, and that reaction is not just about attraction and physicality but also a sense of shared social contract and social realness. If someone asks you in person to do something, it’s much harder to say no then if they ask you online.

But even if we remove the internet, shouldn’t speed dating and single’s nights have random encounters beaten by a mile? Because the kind of people who are okay with dating someone they cross paths with are a hundred times more ready for a relationship than the average person who uses a singles event or website. Because the average person using a singles event or website is poorly placed to actually be able to date someone.

Perhaps not very shocking. It is after all, the path of least resistance, in that a lot of the effort is done for you, there’s a created sense of distance, the risk of failure is shared and you can just kind of go with the flow. But to my eyes I think a lot of the people using these services are like the people who go to every conference about how to be a real estate mogul but never sell a property, or go to every writing course but never write a word, and they’re often similarly shelling out large chunks of cash and huge bits of their life and going nowhere. It’s fine if you want to dream. It’s fine if you want to window shop and play pretend about who you might date. Except of course, you’re wasting everyone’s time, which makes you an asshole. And if you want to NOT play pretend and actually get something out of it, you’re wasting your own time, and frankly, you deserve better than that.

So in the spirit of Chuck Wendig, here is some slightly shouty real-talk about how to actually use singles meeting structures so you actually get a relationship. Chuck Wendig of course provides very shouty and extremely sweary advice on how to be a writer, and this will be less sweary but also fundamentally the same basic advice, which is: you can’t do it if you don’t do it.

Writing and dating are about time. You have to set aside an hour or two a day, or at least a week, to do them. The biggest thing I find with people on dating sites is they just aren’t able to do this. Or don’t want to, or are afraid to. They’ll spend hours and hours on profiles and chats, we’ll make connections, we’ll text back and forth, we’ll share a joke and a flirt but when it comes time to actually doing the dating, they just can’t do it. They are physically incapable of meeting me for coffee.

Granted, some of them might change their mind. Some of them may want to tell me they’ve changed their mind in a way that doesn’t make me turn into a monster, which so many men do. Some of them might suddenly get a perfectly understandable sense of fear of being raped and murdered (but I always suggest meetings in busy, open spaces where the woman has a large selection of knives available, and we exchange no personal information until we decide we’re not murderers). And let’s be clear here: some of them just don’t have the time. Especially women in my age group. When women decided they wanted to enter the work force, capitalism decided to make it impossible for them NOT to do so, and dirtbag men have left a lot of women in my age group as single parents, and as a society we’ve decided that women who stay home with children are lazy and women who work full time are neglectful and women who ask the government for money to try and do both somehow are double-dipping welfare sponges. So it is perfectly understandable that you don’t have time. But if that is the case, understand that is the case, and stop wasting your time and mine on dating sites. It ain’t gonna happen.

You’re only going to be able to form a relationship with someone if you date them. It is literally the only way. You have to spend time socialising with people, in a social setting or in private, until you find out if you can spend time together and if you like the way you each smell. You have to date. And you can only date them if you have time to date. And you’ll only know you have time to date if you check and see if you do.

So here’s my advice: to build yourself time to date, to make sure you have that space in your life, start dating yourself. Pick a night. Once a week is fine. Friday nights or saturday nights are good, but Sunday brunches work just as well, as does a Wednesday lunch. As long as it is at least one hour long. Then, during that entire hour, do something you could do on a date. That could be watching TV on the couch, but if going out is a struggle as well, make it going out. Go to a cafe, a bar, a restaurant. Or a park, to save money. Bring a sandwich. Bring a book or your phone. You don’t have to be bored. You can even bring a friend now and then – but only if it doesn’t then become something that belongs to the friend, because then you can’t shuffle them out of the picture when the dates arrive.

Do it for at least a month, two is better, to make sure it is sticking and becoming habit. If you can date yourself for one hour each week for a month, you have time to date. If an emergency happens, make sure you catch up on another day that week. This is the absolute bare minimum you need to be able to do to date people, one hour a week. If you cannot do this, you will never have time to date anyone, which means you will never have a relationship. And that’s okay. Maybe you don’t have time right now. Maybe it turns out you have other priorities. But you should know that. Understand it. Accept it. And don’t expect any dating site or singles event to change that. No amount of money or technology or advice will produce a relationship until you build yourself the time and space to date.

So find out if you have the time, and if you don’t have the time, then get off the goddamn dating websites, and stop wasting MY time. Because it’s mean, and I’m sick of it.

Estalia Project Preview #1: Never Trust A Monkey

I’m very near the end of my part of the Estalia Project, and about to hand it over to some amazing editors, line editors, proofreaders and layout people. So it’s a good time to give you a preview. This is one of the first things I wrote to get me in the mood for Estalia, all those years ago.

Never Trust A Monkey

The monkey’s tail flicked across the dusty tiles, leaving a trail behind like a snake. It chattered madly, one eye rolling around to view the rabble the filled the taverna. It hopped twice in place, as if dancing a jig. Then with a mad leap it flew onto the game table and began to dance in earnest. Screeching and whooping it ran around in a circle, stamping up and down on the cards, scattering bets, knocking over cups of blood-orange wine. Finally, it circled round into the middle and whooped as it chased its own tail, spinning around and around like a pinwheel, hopping back and forth between feet before at last collecting both of them in its front paws and collapsing into a puddle of fur. Then with a whoop it jumped up again and tossed off its fez and pointed to it, screeching again. The eyepatched elf in the corner laughed and clapped his hands and threw in the first coin. Most knew the game but the tables of La Isla Atalaya were always full of travelers and newcomers and they had never even known a monkey before, let alone a dancing one. When the silver finished falling, the eyepatched elf stepped forward and scooped up the fez, bowing his head up and down in thanks. The monkey, knowing what was next, galloped up his master’s arm and was rewarded with an olive. It chattered with glee as the busker replaced its fez and swept away to find new marks.

With a foetid belch, Alonzo slid his chair back flush with the table and pointed a stubby finger at the elf opposite him. Astaran stared down at the cards he’d been dealt and back at Alonzo. “I’m out this round” he said, waving his hands above his cards like a conjurer. Alonzo smirked, a flicker of drool running from his pudgy lips and angled his finger around the table at the next player, a tall Norscan who kept moving his cards back and forth in his hand as if that would make them transform into better ones. A bid was made, and the wagering continued, Alonzo keeping time with his finger turning like a ticking clock. When he came to bet, he licked his fingers like he always did, and thumbed his cards like the edge of a knife. He licked his lips with greed and called the bet. Another line of drool slipped over his lips, as if he could taste his winnings already. Alonzo rubbed his thumb across his chin, smearing grease into the drool, and when he pulled his hand back, noticed the blackness. By then it was too late – his tongue had already tripled in size and gorged his throat with black sludge. Two more players hit the floor second later, their hands swollen into hideous mitts, the poison working its way greedily up their arms. The Norscan, giant that he was, managed to draw his sword and cross to the monkey trainer, but he had no strength left to bring his weapon down. He did however provide the perfect distraction for Astaran to slide his blade through the monkey-trainer’s throat from behind. The blade stuck out like a bizarre second tongue as the body went limp beneath it. Blood soaked the stones. The puddle quickly swallowed the monkey’s corpse, the poison that it had carried on its feet to the cards now burning its limbs away to a horrid grey dust.

Parasco took the blade from his elven master as always and began to polish it fastidiously with his silken kerchief. “However did you know not to touch the cards, oh maestro?” Parasco asked without looking up. Astaran smiled with only a hint of grimness. “It is as the old saying of the islands goes, Parasco. Never trust a monkey.”