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Altered Dimensions: Epilogue

Just joined this Asylum? Start from the beginning!

Congratulations! You have travelled the multiverse and made it all the way home. Maybe it’s a different place from where you started, and that’s okay. 

I hope you had fun today and got to explore some different worlds. Thank you for letting us portal your imagination about! From here, like your character, you can take what you’ve gained today and carry it forward however you wish. 

Happy writing, everyone!

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Superpowered: Epilogue

Congratulations! You have heroically made it through to the end of this year’s Asylum, for evil ends or good. You have put your super-powered writer self to the test and emerged victorious. 

I hope you have enjoyed exploring the world of super powers: their possibilities, opportunities, and consequences. I hope you had fun and surprised yourself. 

Now it’s time to lay down our pens and capes. The Asylum doors are closing. Until next time, my super wordsmiths! Go forth and spread your stories!

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Writers’ Asylum: Opening Again Soon!

A long hallway leading onwards

It’s almost that time again! Another year rolls by, another Writers’ Asylum steadily approaches.

It has been quite a year for everyone. And it has been a quiet couple of years for this blog. I’m hoping that all of this will improve over the next little while.

I’ve been doing some work to help with this. The first part was some technical work in the background, laying some groundwork that I’ll be building on. That’s all done now, things are ready to move forward, and so am I.

For this blog, the first cab off the rank is this year’s Writers’ Asylum, and I’m so excited to share it with you all! The doors open at 11am, Saturday 1st May (Brisbane time), so set your alarm clocks! Full details are over on the Asylum page, including the timing of the day’s challenges. To join the live broadcast online, come on over to our new WordFamily Discord server.

Spoiler: this year’s theme is Superpowered

There’s more coming up after the Asylum, too! I’m aiming to start posting more writing sparks – because who doesn’t love more writing prompts to use and share? – and then I’ll be planning out what other types of content I want to post on this blog. Got suggestions? Let me know!

Hope you’re all doing well out there. Talk atcha soon!

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Love in Mind: Epilogue

Congratulations: you have done it! The Asylum has come to an end, the doors are opening, and you are released. 

I hope you have enjoyed yourself today. I hope you have woven a story that has surprised and challenged you, and maybe even inspired you a little. May you carry it forward with you as you leave us today. 

If you have any feedback, let us know. Did you enjoy the story? The challenges? The extra hard challenge facets? We are always looking to make a better Asylum for our writers, so let us know what worked for you. 

Until next time the Asylum embraces you, keep writing, my friends. 

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Chaos and Catharsis

Here we go: another big update on where I’m at. The last few weeks have been interesting, hard, stressful, and incredibly busy.

The first part of it all was logistics. With so much to fit in over these few months, getting everything lined up so it worked was a huge challenge, particularly because I’m balancing so many different sources, needs, and requirements. The house move was largely dictated by lease dates and when we could get services done. The work trip to the US is ruled by a bunch of people’s availability and our release dates. The hospital stay is determined by waiting lists and surgeon schedules.

The good thing is that I got it all lined up. It’s hectic and a bit of a nightmare, but I’ve made it all fit together and I think it’ll work. Okay, everything is crossed and I really hope nothing (else) comes out of left field, but on the whole I’m feeling pretty positive about it all.

See, my time works out roughly like this:

  • 2 weeks: move house
  • 2 weeks: work: get everything for the next release done, including documenting new features, writing release notes, and working on training courses.
  • 2 weeks: work trip to the US, visiting two different offices
  • 1 week: work: make sure everything for the release is done.
  • 1 week: hospital stay for surgery.
  • 1 week (hopefully): recovering from surgery at home.

That takes me to mid/late July. I’ve reached the end of my ‘move house’ window and am almost to the end of the first ‘work’ period, so now is a good time to pause, catch my breath, and take stock.

The move went okay. It has been a huge undertaking, because we were not only moving house, but also taking stock and downsizing. The new place is maybe half the size of the old one. Also, a lot of our furniture and equipment is getting old (most of it 10+ years old now), and not worth taking with us even if it all fit (which it didn’t).

We had a huge amount of culling to do. With very little storage space in the new house and a determination not to have things sitting in boxes for a few more years, we had so many things to find new homes for. I really hate throwing away anything that is still perfectly good to use, so we’ve been donating stuff, selling stuff, putting things out for others to help themselves to, and giving things away to friends.

It was a really challenging and wonderful process. It was tough, because I tend to get emotionally attached to things and I don’t like to let things go. But giving myself permission to ask ‘do I really need to keep this? Has it done its duty with me?’ was also very freeing. Not caring about whether we made money on the things we were getting rid of also freed us from the stress of trying to eke out what things are ‘worth’ and focus on simply getting things into new homes. We’d got our money’s worth from them already, so anything we made through the process was a bonus.

Another aspect of the move was getting a heap of new furniture. Some of it was because of the size of the new place, and some of it was replacing old, tired furniture that was no longer truly usable. Which meant some careful measuring of the new place and coordinating deliveries for it to go directly into its new home. And then, because I got flat packed furniture, construction time to put it all together (even the new couches came in pieces!).

There were the cats to consider, too. This process has been ramping up for weeks as we went through boxes and sorted things into ‘keep’ and ‘move’ piles. Lots of things have been slowly packed away or removed. Rooms have been emptying as we’ve sold off surplus furniture. So our poor furbabies have been getting stressed and required heaps of reassurance. And then we moved them to the new house and had to settle them in there. The good news is that they’re getting used to the new setup and making themselves at home.

On top of all that was closing down the old house, including arranging cleaners, gardeners, carpet cleaning, and so on. We’ve just finished with that (and it has cost an arm and a leg), and I was so glad to finally hand the keys over and be done with that house!

Getting it all done in 2 weeks was a challenge, particularly when it’s just my dad and me (with my fatigue and other issues). We’ve had to pace ourselves and make sure we didn’t overdo things, and while we were mostly successful, we’re still both sore and exhausted.

I’m blessed with wonderful friends, though, who helped move the lion’s share of the boxes and packed stuff in exchange for lunch. So grateful for them! And for everyone who helped us find homes for stuff we couldn’t take with us.

And of course, we had some complications show up to try to derail things. The first was a nail in my car tyre, on the day the mover’s came to shift the big furniture for us. We changed it out for the spare just before the truck arrived, and I had to squeeze a garage trip into my time off work to get it fixed. Luckily, not too expensive, but a pain in the ass I didn’t need with so much else going on.

The second big one was the fridge that didn’t fit up the stairs. The new place is a bit upside-down, with the lounge and kitchen on the top (3rd) floor. Our old fridge was wide (about a standard fridge and a half) and wouldn’t go around the corners to get up the stairs, and our other option would have been some kind of lift to get it over the balcony up there. I wasn’t keen on spending a few hundred more dollars on an old fridge, so it got to sit in the garage while I went about buying a new fridge. It was a few hundred dollars I hadn’t particularly wanted to spend, but better spent on a new fridge than an old one. We spent 2 weeks running up and down stairs to the fridge, but the new one arrived last week (and made it up the stairs!), and it’s all good now. We finally have a fully-functional kitchen!

It has been a lot and I’m so happy to have got through it. We haven’t finished unpacking everything yet, but most of it is done. I’m taking my time picking away at the rest.

Since I’ve been back at work, it has been all systems go to catch up with what happened while I was away, squeeze about 6 weeks’ worth of documentation into 2 weeks, and get all the prep done for my work trip to the US. I have so many balls in the air, I can barely keep count!

Right now, I hardly know what day it is. The wheels haven’t come off yet and I think I’ve got everything lined up and heading in the right direction, so I think I can say it’s going okay.

Hope you’re all doing okay out there. I’ll be back soon with another update! Onwards and upwards, my friends.

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Writers’ Asylum: Murder in Mind: Epilogue

The party is over. It’s time to clean up the mess and try not to notice how sticky the floor is.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed our party, and solved a mystery while you were here. You now have a bunch of stories, to do with as you please!

Thank you for coming along and taking part. The Asylum wouldn’t exist without its inmates. If you have any suggestions about things we could try or improve, let me know!

In the meantime, don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out. You are released!

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Writers’ Asylum: Murder in Mind: Prologue

Welcome to the Asylum. Today, we’re going to commit murder.

But first, we’re going to throw a party. We’re going to climb into the lives of the host and his or her guests, we’re going to see how they tick, and why. More interestingly, we’re going to see what happens when they’re mixed together.

I’m going to give you a series of instructions and prompts. You can take these instructions in any direction you wish: your imagination is encouraged to play. When each challenge is presented, you have an hour to write. Aim for 1,000 words and see where each challenge takes you!

So, get a drink, turn up the music, and settle in. It’s going to be a fun and perilous ride!

Next up: Challenge #1

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A plethora of love

Why must there always be smoochies?
(Picture: not mine)

Western society and its fictional media seem obsessed with sexual relationships. Not necessarily sex itself (because being too sexual is bad); rather, romance and sexual attraction, and the promise of sex.

I have no problem with these ideas on their own. I love a good romantic subplot, or even main plot when the mood strikes. I like a bit of raunchy goodness. I adore seeing couples come together. (I’m currently in the middle of writing a very romance/sex-heavy part of a story, and loving it!)

I start to have an issue when it becomes ubiquitous. Too often, romances are shoe-horned into stories, whether books or TV shows or movies. Fan-fiction takes non-romantic relationships and adds sexual heat. I start to object not because I dislike romances, but because of all the things that these couplings are replacing, and for the messages it sends.

One of the things that worries me most about this trend is that it erases other types of love and relationship. Relationships are so much more than just sex and attraction, and they can be deep and valuable without a hint of sexual chemistry. Too often, I see that if a man and woman work closely together, or are in close proximity for long periods, they must, at some point, hook up. Or if two men are very close, loyal to each other, often comrades of some sort, they must also be fucking.

It’s unrealistic, and honestly, childish (in its desperate clamouring for simplicity, not in that children do this). It is entirely possible to be devoted friends with someone of your preferred will-boink gender and type, and have it never go anywhere near sex. You can be utterly loyal to them, to a fault, have a deep affection, and for it to be completely non-sexual (or asexual; I’m using ‘non-sexual’ to avoid confusion with the asexual orientation).

But so many of the stories we read and see deny that this is a possibility. If two people get on really well, at least one of them will want to get naked and sweaty with the other. This is particularly pervasive in fan-fiction, which is notorious for taking non-sexual relationships and turning them sexual (the Wincest and Twincest* fandoms are so notable they have their own names, and turn brothers into lovers). Why can’t brothers just love each other? Support each other and have each other’s backs? Why is that not beautiful and satisfying in its own right?

Talking about fan-fiction is tricky, because it’s a minefield of people striving to tell the stories they want to tell. I’m not trying to bash fan-ficcers; they are, unfortunately, the extreme example that illustrates the point. I get that two hot guys fucking is sometimes the point, and that’s fine. I also understand that, for minorities, often these pairings are about representation and putting themselves (or people like themselves) into media in a way that mainstream media is currently failing to do. (Glorifying incest is a shade too far in my book, but that’s a personal opinion.)

I mention it because it’s all part of this worrying trend that turns every relationship into a boink-fest. Like there’s nothing else.

It’s got to the point where the exceptions jump out at me, and I’m desperately grateful for them. Like the end of Pacific Rim, when the two lead characters, despite some chemistry in the movie and being in each other’s heads, embrace platonically at the end instead of the snog I was expecting Hollywood to produce. It was a natural progression of their relationship, rather than the usual rush-to-squishiness that happens. That moment wasn’t about romance; it was about appreciating each other, with affection, and was nice to see.

Sometimes, the best way we can support and comfort one another is with a hug.

Similarly, Zoe and Mal in Firefly/Serenity are a great example. They’re inseparable, utterly and fiercely loyal to each other, they live together, they’re both physically-capable characters, and go through high-stakes combat situations (and we all know that adrenaline leads inevitably to boinking, right? Like we can’t help ourselves).

And yet, there’s absolutely no chemistry between them (it’s even explicitly addressed in the TV show). In any other show, they’d be all over each other (see, for example, Farscape for a different choice with similar archetypes). In Firefly, though, they’re allowed to be attached to each other and romantically (and sexually) independent. Their orientations even mesh, so it’s not that they couldn’t be attracted to each other that way; they simply aren’t. I love this!

These two examples also allow something that is erased by much Western fiction: men and women can be friends and not want to fuck at any point in the relationship. No ‘friendzoning’ required (I hate that whole idea because of everything it carries with it).

And this is where I mention the messages that this trend sends. That every close relationship must involve sex at some point, like it’s expected. This is where the ‘friendzoning’ trend/trope annoys me, because our media encourages men, in particular, to expect sex as part of being friends with a girl.

It’s worth mentioning that I’ve dated guys that I’ve been friends with for some time. I’ve had that type of relationship evolution myself, so I’m the last person to deny that it can happen. I’ve also had a lot of close male friends in my life that have involved no chemistry on either side (despite compatible sexual preferences), and have just been great mateships. I value those relationships greatly. So the denial that the latter can happen annoys me intensely. Why would you deny yourself the wonderful friends you could have?

Then there’s the trend that people in intense situations must get together, because that’s a healthy way to start a relationship. The movie Speed addressed this explicitly, and it’s no surprise that the relationship at the end of the first movie has fallen apart by the sequel (it’s also convenient for their casting/plot choices, of course). Too many times, I’ve looked at a couple snogging at the end of a story with its ‘and they boinked happily ever after and had little tiny protagonists of their own’ tone, and wound up thinking ‘but they have nothing in common and returning to their real lives is going to be a hell of a shock’. Enjoy the sweaty sex while it lasts, kids, because that’s only a happily-for-now ending, not a happily-ever-after.

More worrying is the trope that we still see all over the place that uses a romantic hookup as the hero’s reward at the end of his struggles. Because women are still prizes to be fought over and won, and we, apparently, can’t help but get all weak-kneed in the presence of a successful protagonist. These are usually the most ill-matched pairings, because the girl must be hot and male heroes have had a trend in recent years of being more ordinary-looking, delving into nerdy (Transformers, I’m looking at you).

It’s not to say that the nerd can’t get the hot girl, because sure, we all love to see someone punching above their weight. But it’s the notion that all you need to do is succeed at whatever is in front of you to ‘get’ her that rankles. In Transformers, it’s particularly obvious, because they spend no time at all developing why the girl would want to be with this boy on a relationship level (and there’s not a whisper of chemistry between them). He’s the ‘hero’ of the story, so therefore, getting the girl is a foregone conclusion and the story does nothing to provide any other reason for the hook-up.

Too often, the romance aspect is pushed in at the last minute, like they’re ticking a box.

Turning a relationship to sex can also cheapen whatever it had been growing into in the story. It’s so frustrating to see burgeoning friendships turn into ‘nah, they’re just going to fuck’, and what might have been an interesting aspect to the story be cut off. Because a lot of how we deal with sex, particularly in the media, is cheap and distancing, and lacks complexity, by replacing emotional or affectionate intimacy with physical intimacy.

Turning a relationship romantic can also cut off other avenues of expression, exploration and discussion. ‘Because love’ becomes the reason for everything, and I’m so terribly bored with that. We do things for so many reasons, and being in love with someone doesn’t have to be at the top of the list.

One example that comes to mind is the current Stucky (Steve Rogers/Bucky Barnes) fan pairing. There is some desire to make this pairing canon in the MCU, and fans who will claim that it’s subtext in the movies. At least part of this is because the MCU is desperately lacking in gay representation and having a notable character like Captain America be gay (or bi, really) would be huge. I get that, and I support the sentiment that there should be more gay representation (in the MCU and media in general). However.

I think that giving Steve and Bucky’s relationship a sexual or romantic angle would cheapen and over-simplify it. Steve’s relationship with and feelings towards Bucky are complicated, and not entirely about Bucky. His dogged support and pursuit of Bucky through Civil War shows us a lot about him and about the trauma that he is struggling to deal with: losing everyone he knew to the passage of time while he was frozen; survivor’s guilt, particularly with what happened to Bucky; a desperate belief in the possibility of redemption; and the loyalty between comrades and friends.

Bring romance into it, and all of those things fade into the background. We can sit back and stop questioning: Steve’s motivations are explained by ‘because love’, because love is such a powerful force that you don’t need any other explanation to shore it up. For someone to go to those lengths for a friend, though, that lets us know that there’s a lot more going on under the hood than is immediately obvious. We question, we watch more closely, because if not love, then why? We start to notice how much Steve is looking in the mirror when he looks at Bucky and seeing all the things that he could have been, if things had been different. If he hadn’t been lucky. If he had fallen off that train and into the enemy’s hands. The struggle with the friend who had protected him for so long suddenly needing his protection. His desperate need to believe in there being good underneath the mask of the Winter Soldier. Tucking all of this away under romance-tinted lenses is a disservice to otherwise complex and interesting characters.

As a creator and consumer of fiction, I’m interested in the human condition. I want to see it in all its dirty, complicated messiness. I want to see all the diverse aspects people and how we interact with and are influenced by the world around us.

Not every relationship can and should be about romance or sex or hearts. There are so many different ways to love others: some involve kisses, others hugs, and others supportive words.

For those who cry about representation, who want this character to be gay, or that character to be bi: what about asexual characters? Or aromantics? What about stories that are not about romance? Why must it be everywhere?

Why can’t we embrace the bromance or the sisterhood without sex getting in the way, or celebrate close familial love, or enjoy the notion of heterosexual life partners**? Why isn’t it okay for soulmates to be just friends? Why can’t we explore all the different flavours of love available to us?

Because there’s so much more out there worth exploring. Demand more from your fiction! Like Frozen, which revolved around the connection between two sisters (and lampooned romantic relationships and our childish obsession with them). Or Brave, which was about connecting with parents, and balancing compassion and understanding with duty.

Demand more, write more. Enjoy the breadth and depth of human emotion, and don’t let media pressure cheapen it with a thin veneer of sex. We’re so much better than that.


* For those unfamiliar: Wincest is the Winchester brothers from Supernatural hooking up; Twincest is the Weasley twins from Harry Potter doing the same.

** Jay and Silent Bob reference; another flavour of bromance without a hint of actual romance.

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Why I say ‘Merry Christmas’

Christmas in my house also includes helpful cats. Like Cinnamon here. (Picture: mine)

Christmas in my house also includes helpful cats. Like Cinnamon here.
(Picture: mine)

Every year at this time, the world is rife with decorations, marketing, propaganda, and strident advice about what it’s okay to say to people when you want to share good will and wishes with them. Every year, I roll my eyes at how people can bitch and complain about how someone expresses those will and wishes.

The way I see it, whatever words come out of your mouth, the intent is what’s important. And the intent here is to wish someone well. Taking offence at that just seems petty and overly precious.

The crux of the issue seems to be religion, and that’s also a large part of why I roll my eyes. That’s not to say that I’m denigrating religion: the part that annoys me is that this has become a religious issue.

The way I see it, Christmas is not a purely religious holiday. Christmas is a part of Western culture that has grown out of many faiths: originally Pagan, co-opted to have some Christian trappings and elements, and liberally sprinkled with folklore characters and details. Christmas is much bigger and broader than all of those sources. The way I look at it, it’s more cultural than religious.

My immediate family members are not Christians. We don’t celebrate the birth of Christ explicitly or intentionally. The same is true of most of my friends and their families.

To us, Christmas is about getting together with family and loved ones. In some cases, reconnecting. It’s about giving gifts and showing others that we think of them, we remember them, we appreciate and love them. It’s about spending time with them, usually so difficult in our hectic lives. It’s about feasting and indulging, which is so frowned-upon in this milieu of dietary rhetoric driven by whatever trend is making the health industry money right now, and rare in a life driven by budgets and careful spending. It’s about taking a break from the stress of our regular lives, just for a short time. (I know, Christmas itself can be stressful, but that’s still a break from the other stress, right?)

In many ways, it’s about loving life and each other, and celebrating that.

I love Christmas in my house. It’s laid-back, it’s warm with welcome company, and I get to share gifts with people I care about (I love giving people presents).

It means so much to me that, in recent years, I’ve been inviting friends over to spend it with us. Specifically, friends who are away from their families, or who can’t get back to them, or who would otherwise spend it on their own. I think it’s good to spend that part of the year with others, indulge in good company and food, and then do nothing more strenuous than move to the couch.

It’s such a pleasure to have them join us and be part of our little celebration. They make me make more of an effort, and I think we all have a better time of it as a result. It reminds me of how big our hearts are.

I don’t think you have to be religious to feel blessed.

So when I wish someone ‘Merry Christmas’, it’s because I want them to feel as heartful and happy as our version of Christmas is, even if they don’t celebrate it (at all, or in the same way). I hope they enjoy this time of year – or even just today – however they choose to spend it. It’s a way to share this celebration with others, even those I barely know. ‘Good will to all men’ is a holiday-appropriate phrase that applies here.

I’m sure that when Christians say it, they have a similar intent, if different because their experience and conception of Christmas isn’t the same as mine. And that’s fine. They, too, are sharing the good will of something that means something to them with others. Even strangers.

I don’t check to see what flavour of Christmas someone prefers. I honestly don’t really care. Similarly, I don’t take offence if someone wishes me ‘Happy Hanukkah’, or any other type of religious holiday or festival-related phrase; I receive it with gratitude.

Because ultimately, it doesn’t matter what religion the recipient is; the giver is the one to whom it means something, who gives it meaning. I understand that they are wishing me well, and I take it in that spirit.

For me to say ‘Happy Holidays’ is to mouth empty words, and I don’t see the point in that, so I choose not to. I don’t mind that people use the phrase, but I do dislike when people attempt to make others feel bad for not using it. That’s not okay, and it’s not in the spirit of the holiday.

(Note: I know that companies and government entities have different challenges and considerations, and therefore so do their representatives. I’m speaking from a personal point of view, here; not a representative or spokesperson for anyone or anything but myself.)

It’s like going to France and saying to a local, “No, it’s not ‘merci’; you should say ‘thank you’.” If what someone is saying isn’t in your language or lexicon, translate it and then react.

Ultimately, let’s not get hung up on the words falling off people’s lips. Let’s try to be considerate and respectful, and understand what someone is trying to say to us. Let’s appreciate a time of year in which people share kind, well-meaning sentiments with each other, even with strangers. So few of us, me included, seldom take the time to share positive wishes with the people around us, so let’s make the best of it.

So you. Yes, you. Merry Christmas.

May it be wonderful in your world, however and whatever you’re celebrating.

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Writers’ Asylum: Mental Battlefields: Epilogue

You’ve made it through the trials of war and a harrowing battle sequence. There was tension and doubt, lives on the line, loss and gain. At the end of it all, there was a victor, and a price for all to pay.

I hope you have found today’s challenges interesting and intriguing, and maybe even a little fun. We have barely scratched the surface of this story, have had only glimpses of these characters, but you’ve made them live and breathe.

Their story is done; their fate has been decided. You may go on to tell more of their stories, maybe even adjust their destinies if you wish. This world and this war is yours and yours alone. These battlefields are all in your mind.

Thank you for taking part in these challenges. I hope you go forward and continue to create new and interesting worlds, and the events that shape them.

The doors are open, a fresh breeze is coming in. The Asylum releases you. Good luck, and happy writing!

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