K’nex Builds Interest In STEM

There was much celebration!
There was much celebration!

We received six K’nex sets for my kids to test and review. We have two girls, aged 9.5 and 8, and a 5-year-old son. My son immediately opened a treasure chest full of parts and a book of 70 model ideas and started building. He was beyond excited for a K’nexosaurus Rex set, a motorized dinosaur build. The four other sets were aimed specifically at girls, and after a few minutes of looking at everything we’d received, my son wanted to open them all ASAP.

The sets aimed at the girls are meant to encourage interest in STEM. The sets included activities such as framing a house, building simple machines, and building a car with a motor. We received a plane and hang glider set, a carnival set with manual carousel, a set with two different houses, and a clubhouse set with a simple elevator, zip line, and the aforementioned car.

As soon as the girls got home, we started the build on the houses. I never played with K’nex as a kid, and as a LEGO builder I was very impressed with the packaging. The sets are well packed, with both the rods and the connectors color coded by length and shape. The pieces are also well-bagged in intuitive ways; main connectors were in their own bag and the pieces were organized in the order they’re used.

We had two main issues with the sets. First, some of the diagrams were really hard to mimic. As a 36-year-old, I found myself studying the pictures, trying to figure out which way pieces went and how they connected. While I wanted the kids to build independently, there were times that they really needed help.

More frustrating, though, was that the figurines in the girls’ sets kept falling apart. Legs and arms were popping out. The dolls’ hands were also not able to grip the zipline, and when using the elevator, the side of the clubhouse hit the figurine’s head multiple times. The company assured me that the loose limb issue has been fixed in the new sets they’re releasing, and I look forward to testing them to verify.

Much to my son’s disappointment, all the figurines are girls. K’nex has no plans at this time to add boys to the line as the sets are specifically targeting girls. The kids had a great time building, and my 9.5-year-old daughter was ultimately able to do a few full builds by herself. Every kid who has walked into our house for the last week has salivated at these sets and sat down to play for hours. Having played with the review sets, the new K’nex are on my list of things to buy for our home.

Sets can be purchased at multiple retailers; prices range from $12-$40.

Photos: Dani Weiss-Bronstein

5 Books That Can’t Hit The Big Screen Fast Enough

It’s inevitable.

I get excited, borderline giddy sometimes, when a favorite book of mine gets ready to make its way onto the big screen. I follow the trailers, pour over pictures of the casting choices, sets, and costume designs. I gather up the family or plan a date night when the book hits the big screen, but am always unable to turn off my “book was better” skepticism.

I loved both the Harry Potter and Peter Jackson’s Hobbit/Lord of the Rings film series, but had my criticisms of these big-screen versions. Too many characters and scenes added to The Hobbit, and too many scenes and characters left out of Harry Potter. Where was Peeves, for goodness sake?

This has always been an issue. How many ways can they mess up Wizard of Oz? Or Peter Pan? Or Treasure Island?

Continue reading 5 Books That Can’t Hit The Big Screen Fast Enough

Five Classic Movies That Need the ‘Ghostbusters’ Treatment

Now that we’re seeing Ghostbusters trailers featuring Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, and Kate McKinnon, the process of seeing gender-swapped characters feels more real. An all-female version of Ocean’s Eleven is in development with Sandra Bullock at the helm, so what other classic movies could be re-energized with a gender change-out? Continue reading Five Classic Movies That Need the ‘Ghostbusters’ Treatment

Steampunk! ‘The Invention of E.J. Whitaker’

This month is Women’s History Month and what better time to talk about this really cool Kickstarter, The Invention of E.J. Whitaker by Shawnee´ and Shawnelle Gibbs, a sister team. This story caught my eye because it melds some of my favorite things: women inventors, diversity, comics, and women creators together in to one exciting project.

The tag line reads: “A steampunk comic adventure that follows one heroine’s epic journey to become a distinguished inventor at the turn of the 20th century.”

The Gibbs sisters graciously answered a few questions for GeekMom. Read on to see why I think this is such a fun project.

Continue reading Steampunk! ‘The Invention of E.J. Whitaker’

Delilah Dirk’s Second Adventure!

Image From First Second Press

Delilah Dirk strikes again! In the new graphic novel by Tony Cliff: Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling, we are once more in the company of the swashbuckling heroine and her faithful friend, Mister Selim. This time, it’s Delilah’s reputation in her homeland of England that is at stake. She gets on the wrong side of a new character, Major Merrick (not being the submissive woman he expected), and he decides to use her as a scapegoat for his own traitorous deeds. I had the opportunity to ask Tony some questions about his second book: the action, the friendship, and even the fashion.

GEEKMOM: Creating, writing, and illustration on your own sounds overwhelming. How do you keep yourself motivated? Were there different challenges with the second book?
Continue reading Delilah Dirk’s Second Adventure!

RIP George Martin, the True Fifth Beatle

A great patriarch of my own biggest geekdom, Sir George Martin (not the author, no “R”s), died last night, March 8, 2016. This is no tragedy. He was 90 years old. He led a thoroughly fulfilling life.

The tragedy would be to ignore this, to not acknowledge or realize the monumental impact he had on popular music. George Martin helped turn rock music into a relatively respected art form. And “helped” is even too mild a word for it.

Continue reading RIP George Martin, the True Fifth Beatle

Literary Geocaching: When Books Leap Into Real Life

We all know what geocaching is—a global treasure hunt where participants use a GPS receiver to locate hidden “caches” of tiny toys or rubber stamps. Literary geocaching (or GeoLit) takes the treasure hunt concept one step further by asking readers to find parts of stories hidden in physical locations.

Available only in e-book form, these next-generation narratives provide only part of a story. The reader must actually travel to a specific location (germane to the tale) to access the rest of the work. When the GPS in the reader’s iPad or iPhone matches the target position, another portion of the story is electronically revealed.

The locations chosen for this distinction are places where action in the story might actually happen. For example, if the Little House on the Prairie books were given the literary geocaching treatment, a reader would need to travel to Pepin, Wisconsin, before the text regarding Laura’s little house in the Big Woods would appear. Imagine reading about the cozy cabin while sitting in the grass in front of the very building (a replica of which does stand today).

Photo: Jodamiller
Photo: Jodamiller

The concept of enhancing the reading experience through technology opens a wide range of exciting opportunities. One popular work, The Silent History, encourages readers to write their own segments of the story through “Field Reports” that are tied to specific locations. In the original story, written by four authors*, 120 “Testimonials” or oral histories were included. Each Testimonial was narrated by a character in the story, and provided the background on which the tale was based. Readers who live in the areas mentioned in the Testimonials can enhance the original reports with details of their own, tied to specific GPS points in real locations. To date, over 300 Field Reports have been written, including one that can only be opened at the White House.

To unlock all of the essential parts of a GeoLit story, a reader must leave his quiet home and travel. Some might view this as an annoyance, but to those who love the concept of geocaching and treasure hunting, the obstacles are just part of the fun. The thrill of being able to see, hear, and smell actual elements of a fictional work overcomes the minor inconveniences inherent in the hunt.

Chrissy Clark, a writer who created Stories Everywhere, describes GeoLit as “a magical way of allowing you to have one foot in the physical world, and one foot in the … annotated world on top of it.” Clark’s location-based storytelling includes a project on a historic block in San Francisco where she left short notes about events that happened there, marked with red balloons for passersby to find.

Photo: Michael Kozlowski
Photo: Michael Kozlowski

Clever authors have adapted the GeoLit concept in many ways. Marcelo Rubens Paiva wrote The Trip Book, which uses GPS to change the locations in the story into landmarks that can be found where the reader is situated. Mark Melnykowycz created Lost in Reality, an app that lets users record their stories as they walk through cities, and search for stories recorded by other users. Andrew Mason, founder of the NPR show RadioLab, has collaborated on Detour Austin, an “immersive audio walking tour” that allows users to hear a fictional story about a serial killer in 1885 in Austin, TX, as they walk around that city.

Finding GeoLit e-books can be tricky, as the genre is labeled in many different ways, but for the eager treasure hunter, the obstacles are just part of the fun!

*Eli Horowitz, Kevin Moffett, Matthew Derby, and Russell Quinn.

Review: ‘Space Match’

We are a gaming family. We love ’em, all four of us. Card, board, RPG, you name it, we have at least one example of the type; we’ve even played most of them at least once. Our six year old is patient enough for Doctor Who RiskGloom, and the Imperial Assault training missions (we haven’t tried the longer missions yet). Even our rightfully shorter-in-the-attention-span three year old will play Trouble, Surprise Slidesand King of Tokyo.

Finding time to game as a family can be challenging, however, with my weird and irregular nurse schedule, which includes a fair number of weekends and evenings, and the boy being in school full-time plus attending Hebrew School on Sunday mornings. In an effort to increase playing opportunity, nights we’re all here, we’ve been trying to take the half hour between dinner and bedtime once devoted to the day’s non-educational television (except on Dinner and Rebels night; nothing shall replace Dinner and Rebels night so long as there are episodes of Rebels to watch) to play a family game. Not that there’s anything wrong with TV. There isn’t. I love the stuff, probably too much, but it’s more fun for the four of us to spend that half-hour engaged with one another when we can, especially since we don’t have that time as regularly as many families.

Continue reading Review: ‘Space Match’

‘The Legend of Wonder Woman’ Chapter 18: Exclusive Preview

If you’re not reading The Legend of Wonder Woman, I urge you to start because it’s the best Wonder Woman origin story that I’ve ever read. (Issue #3 of the print series is on sale this Wednesday and, go, BUY IT.)

The digital chapters are well ahead of the print chapters, however. Check out this exclusive preview of chapter 18, which will go live on Thursday.

As the Duke’s legion of undead warriors attacks, Diana must decide whether to chase her answers of home, or use her new strengths to defend the Outsiders.
Writer & Penciller: Renae De Liz
Inker & Colorist: Ray Dillon

Cover Artists: De Liz and Dillon
The chapter will be available for download Thursday via the DC Comics App, Readdcentertainment.com, iBooks, comiXology.com, Google Play, Kindle Store, Nook Store, and iVerse ComicsPlus.

Continue reading ‘The Legend of Wonder Woman’ Chapter 18: Exclusive Preview

I Need to Fun More

I know it’s not a verb, the word “fun,” but maybe it should be. Forcing me to use the word “have” before it, making it something I must acquire, adds that much more distance to the goal, an extra obstacle I must overcome before reaching my desired level of happiness.
Continue reading I Need to Fun More

Author Mishell Baker Geeks Out About Gaming

image courtesy Mishell Baker.

Mishell Baker’s urban fantasy series The Arcadia Project begins with the novel Borderline, just released this March. The series is narrated by Millicent Roper, a snarky double-amputee and suicide survivor who works with a ragtag collection of society’s least-wanted, keeping the world safe from the chaotic whims of supernatural beasties. Mishell’s short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Redstone Science Fiction, and Electric Velocipede.

When Mishell isn’t convention-hopping or going on wild research adventures, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two changelings.  When her offspring are older, she will probably remember what her hobbies are. In the meantime, she enjoys sending and receiving old-fashioned handwritten paper letters.

I always hesitate to call myself a “gamer,” since my tastes are so specific. But within the very small subcategory of “story-driven fantasy RPGs for PC,” the term “enthusiast” doesn’t even begin to cover my obsession or these games’ effect on my writing. Here are five RPG series I could easily play (and geek out about) endlessly:

  1. Quest for Glory – My first gaming addiction was Sierra’s classic Quest for Glory series, by Lori and Corey Cole. I grew up right along with the game’s hero as I played and replayed a tale that is by turns silly, suspenseful, and heartbreaking. I began the first installment—in which a naive young hero saves a small town from a curse—at age twelve. By the end of the fifth installment, I was in my mid-twenties, and my hero was king of a powerful nation. Talk about epic!
  2. Guild Wars – This one had me at the tutorial. I painstakingly discovered lush forests and fields, quest by quest… and then the moment I completed the introductory section I watched everything I’d just explored get blasted into noxious wasteland. I was traumatized… and hooked. Both the original game and its follow-up Guild Wars 2 gave me plenty of opportunities to crawl back through the ruins of that first memorable area and experience a strange mix of grief and nostalgia. I love trying to recreate this feeling in my work: trying to identify readers’ strongest first impressions, then finding ways to tease, twist, and distort those memories later on.
  3. The Elder Scrolls – The lore of the Elder Scrolls’ world of Tamriel has changed the way I approach world-building. Unlike the typical coherent mythology created by a singular author, the books and scrolls you find lying about in the Elder Scrolls games reveal diverse and uncomfortably irreconcilable views of theology and history that only suggest, never reveal, the truth. The second book of the Arcadia Project series owes a lot to my fascination with this startlingly realistic approach to world lore.
  4. EverquestEQ was the grandmother of MMORPGs, and it’s where I discovered online roleplaying. During my time in EQ and EQ2, I practiced my character creation and dialogue skills and met some amazing writers. Most importantly, it was while playing Everquest 2 that I first invented a deadpan gloved warlock named Caryl Vallo. She didn’t thrive in that world; too many other strong-willed characters steered her story in directions that didn’t satisfy me. So I plucked her out of Norrath, gave her a different backstory, and found her a new home in my debut novel Borderline.

    Image Courtesy Simon & Schuster. Available on Amazon.
  5. Dragon Age – Put off by the blood-spattered marketing campaign, I tried the first Dragon Age game only reluctantly. But within a week I was wholeheartedly immersed in the world of Thedas, and immediately after finishing the game for the first time I surprised myself by bursting into tears. All three Dragon Age installments differ radically in interface and design (a common criticism), but the world and characters consistently enrapture and move me to the point that I find myself irritated when I have to actually fight monsters to earn another 24-karat nugget of story. BioWare’s writers are astonishing; their games are master classes in how to set up and pay off emotional effect.

I’ve loved computer games as a storytelling medium all my life, and to this day it affects the way I construct story. As a writer I try to address what I think the readers will want to explore, not what I, as the Authority, feel the need to explain. The fun in plotting for me, as it may well be in game design, is trying to guess what the audience would choose. In deciding when it’s best to indulge them and when it will satisfy them more in the long run if I frustrate or subvert their desires. If I’ve learned anything from games it’s that when a story is well designed, losing can be almost as fun as winning.

Visit http://mishellbaker.com/ for more information about Mishell and her books!

My Favorite Read-Aloud Books Right Now: March 2016

Do you ever feel like you hit a streak of not-so-great books, and then boom! You get a ton of really great ones in one shot?

Below are the library finds my family and I enjoyed reading in the last month, including everything from picture books about having a can-do attitude to graphic novels strangely reminiscent of Doctor Who.

GeekMom Ariane features her family's favorite read-aloud books this month.
Edgar Gets Ready for Bed. Image credit: Gibbs Smith

Edgar Gets Ready for Bed, written by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Ron Stucki is, as you can probably deduce, a picture book inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Edgar is a boisterous young raven whose answer for everything is, you guessed it, “nevermore!” The kids won’t get the reference, but you will. Adorable!

GeekMom Ariane features her family's favorite read-aloud books this month.
I Had a Favorite Dress. Image credit: Harry N. Abrams

I Had a Favorite Dress, written by Bonie Ashburn and illustrated by Julia Denos, starts with a young girl’s favorite dress and a problem: her dress is now too short. Continue reading My Favorite Read-Aloud Books Right Now: March 2016

The Original Genrenaut: An Interview With Mike Underwood

Mike has circumnavigated the world, knows why Tybalt cancels out Capo Ferro, and rolls a mean d20.

He is the author the several series: the comedic fantasy Ree Reyes series (GEEKOMANCY, CELEBROMANCY, ATTACK THE GEEK, HEXOMANCY), fantasy superhero novel SHIELD AND CROCUS, supernatural thriller THE YOUNGER GODS, and GENRENAUTS, a science fiction series in novellas. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books.

Mike lives in Baltimore with his wife and their ever-growing library. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he plays video games, geeks out on TV, and makes pizzas from scratch. He is a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show as well as Speculate! The Podcast for Readers, Writers, and Fans.

Full disclosure, dear readers: I’ve interviewed Mike once before and it was a blast, so I knew this was going to be fun. That he was generous enough to allow me to do so again speaks to his being an utterly rad dude and one who has a lot of really interesting stuff to say.

Give us the basement to penthouse elevator pitch for the Genrenauts concept.

A. The Genrenauts are a group of storytellers that travel between dimensions, each the source and home of a narrative genre (Western, Romance, etc.), to find and fix broken stories. Because if they fail, the damage from those broken stories ripples over and causes disaster on earth.

The series starts as struggling stand-up comedian Leah Tang is recruited to be a probationary member of the Genrenauts. The team heads to the Western story world to fix a story where the posse of heroic gunslingers was killed by the black hats, leaving the town defenseless. And it just gets wackier from there. Continue reading The Original Genrenaut: An Interview With Mike Underwood

DC Comics’ Big Three Are Big Kids in ‘Study Hall of Justice’

When the team behind Li’l Gotham is back for a unique take on DC’s Big Three in a book for kids, it’s almost a no-brainer for any Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman fan to pick it up. You know, for the kids. (If you want to share it, I mean.)

Study Hall of Justice (DC Comics: Secret Hero Society #1) is a new middle-grade book series from Scholastic that is part journal, part graphic novel, and all DC Comics fun.

Continue reading DC Comics’ Big Three Are Big Kids in ‘Study Hall of Justice’

Crying Bravo for ‘Cry Havoc’

Hanging on the window of my local comic store is a dark blue poster with the tagline, “It’s not about a lesbian werewolf going to war, except it kind of is.” The moment I saw it, Cry Havoc had my attention.

I’m still fairly new to reading comics, having only picked up my first book a couple years ago, so I am still trying to determine what it is that I like and what I do not. But, in my experience, if it is published by Image, I am likely to enjoy it, and this book is no exception.

Cry Havoc is like no book I’ve read before. Split into three different time periods – differentiated by color and colorist – the book tells the story of our protagonist Louise Canton from the beginning (blue), the middle (tan), and the end (red), jumping fluidly between the eras in each book. Though, regardless of how the scenes in the red part of the book are labeled, the twists at the end of each of the two books published show that something much deeper is going on than we have seen far and it only leaves me wanting more. Continue reading Crying Bravo for ‘Cry Havoc’

Letting the Oddity Live On: A Salute to Diana Wynne Jones

I’ve had those times when I’ve actively mourned “celebrities”artists, let’s call them because it isn’t the fame that made them important to me, and I think the “celebrity” label cheapens that importance.

But the experience I had five years ago at the end of this month was just a little different. Yes, I was mourning one of my favorite authors. But I also couldn’t shake the feeling that now I had to—was being called to—carry on her legacy.

And in at least one way—the forcing-other-people-to-listen-to-me-rave-about-her way—I’ve had help with that. During March 2012, a year after her death, her publishers held a blog tour/on-line celebration of the life and works of Diana Wynne Jones. So many bloggers wanted to participate that “#DWJMarch” managed to take over April and May as well. Each year since, Kristen M. at the book blog We Be Reading has continued to host #DWJMarch, and a smaller-but-dedicated group of fans continues to pitch in.

Since last March took Terry Pratchett away from us, too, she’s added him into the mix this year as well, renaming the celebration “March Magics.”

It’s a combination that makes a lot of sense. They’re both English fantasy writers who wrote books that not only skewered the conventions of fantasy, but also offered biting observations of any other topic (especially real life). They created characters both hilarious and heartbreaking. The Venn Diagram for Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones fans ought to be nearly a circle, but somehow she is less well-known in the mainstream. Continue reading Letting the Oddity Live On: A Salute to Diana Wynne Jones

Help Kickstart “End of the Line – The Game of Post-Apocalyptic Family Survival”

The first game I played from the folks at Fight in a Box was Squirrel or Die. It’s a quick and easy game that involves tiles that will either help your squirrel survive the winter or see him starving. Win or lose, it’s a fantastic little game. That’s why I’m very excited for their new Kickstarter for End of the Line.

Continue reading Help Kickstart “End of the Line – The Game of Post-Apocalyptic Family Survival”

Clever Entrepreneurs Create Havens for Creative Geeks & Gamers

The popular image of a gamer is typically a skinny kid in a hoodie hunched over a controller in a basement somewhere. In reality, anyone can be a fan of video games, or a LARPing enthusiast, or a Dungeon Master, and the characterization of these enthusiasts as anti-social loners is often far from the truth.

In fact, the very nature of games requires social cooperation, and in most cases, “the more, the merrier.” More importantly, gaming tends to attract players with vivid imaginations and a passionate creative spark. Far from preferring to toil alone in a dark room, many gamers actively seek like-minded peers to improve and expand their game experience.

Continue reading Clever Entrepreneurs Create Havens for Creative Geeks & Gamers

‘Marvel’s Agent Carter’ Still Has Work to Do

With a proverbial bang, Marvel’s Agent Carter’s season two came to an end Tuesday night. Whitney Frost was defeated, Peggy saved the day with a little help from her friends, and the love triangle that has been a thorn in the side of this show was finally settled.

While a solid and entertaining season, it left me feeling a little saddened by the fate of our favorite S.S.R. agent for four reasons. Continue reading ‘Marvel’s Agent Carter’ Still Has Work to Do

One Green Lantern Shines But Not the One With 50 Issues

Before we begin reviews of this weeks issues, I wanted to mention that Martian Manhunter: Vol. 1: The Epiphany is now available. This is one of the unexpectedly awesome books DC has published lately and it stands alone as a great SF invasion story.

Also of particular interest this week is Omega Men #9, another terrific issue spotlighting Green Lantern Kyle Rayner in what’s fast becoming a modern classic, so much so that there’s a scene this week that Ray compares favorably to the classic The Watchmen.

Martian manhunter, mr. biscuits
Martian Manhunter’s multiple selves. Panel copyright DC Comics

As for the more well-known Green Lantern? Hal Jordan’s series hits issue #50, a milestone for the new 52 reboot. Ray finds that the whole series was rewarding but I’m not even close to Hal Jordan’s biggest fan.

Plus, Swamp Thing, more Bat-kids, and Batgirl has a trippy issue that is my favorite in this run. And don’t forget to check out the bonus Batman ’66 and Scooby Doo reviews. Continue reading One Green Lantern Shines But Not the One With 50 Issues

DIY: When There’s Not Enough Gender Representation In Our Favorite Stories

Our guest blogger: Heather Massey searches for sci-fi romance adventures and writes about them at Galaxy Express 2.0 and Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. Her SFR musings have appeared at a variety of places including LoveLetter magazine, Coffee Time Romance, Tor.com, Heroes & Heartbreakers, SF Signal, and SFR Galaxy Awards.
She’s also an author in the genre. To learn more about her published work, visit heathermassey.com. When Heather’s not reading or writing, she’s watching cult films and enjoying the company of her husband and daughter.

Hey, moms, you know the drill: you’re the parent of a daughter(s) who goes wild over a female character, but when you try to find merchandise, action figures, additional content, or heck, just anything to feed her new passion, there’s nothing there. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

In 2015, this scenario happened to me. My daughter was finally old enough to watch the Despicable Me franchise, so we consumed the first two films in rapid succession. For the uninitiated, the least you need to know about the series is that it’s about Felonius Gru, a supervillain who finds redemption after adopting three orphan girls.

Shortly thereafter, the prequel in the series, Minions, was released. My daughter was developing a love for the little deviled eggs, so I took her to see the movie. I expected a mildly entertaining cash cow—I mean, pastime; what I did not expect was for her and I to develop a seriously hardcore bond over the film’s main female character, namely, supervillain Scarlet Overkill.

Scarlet is the supervillain boss-turned-antagonist for whom the three main Minion characters steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown. Putting aside her villainous nature for the moment, Scarlet’s resume is a collection of amazing abilities. She’s a master thief, an accomplished pilot, and an expert fighter. Her huge, fairy tale castle fortress towers over London and includes a treasure-filled loot room. An ambitious woman, she’s skilled at marketing her brand and building a criminal empire. In fact, compared to the franchise’s other villains, Scarlet’s skill set is by far the strongest.

Scarlet is married to Herb, a groovy inventor with a penchant for warm milk and cookies. Though Scarlet is strictly a plot device, the filmmakers gave her just enough backstory, sympathy, and edginess to become a cult-worthy character.

Much as my daughter and I adore Scarlet Overkill, she isn’t without her problematic elements. Among them are her hypersexualized nature, ableist portrayal (co-director Kyle Balda has, unfortunately, described her as “bi-polar”), and weak characterization (of the “mile wide, inch deep variety.”). Based on my extensive research, the only woman who seems to have had significant input into her character development was Sandra Bullock, the voice of Scarlet. And thank goodness for that.

If nothing else, the Minions experience has given me an opportunity to discuss some of the issues related to gender representation in animation with my daughter (at an age-appropriate level, of course). There’s vast room for improvement regarding female animated characters, the most important of which is making more of them the leads in animated films (so we don’t keep ending up with gender-lopsided lists like this one).

I don’t have the power to influence animation studios, but I can sure as heck influence at least one member of the next generation of animation fans. Our daughters deserve far better.

As many of you are probably aware, female action figures for various franchises are difficult to come by. Avengers’ Black Widow and Star Wars’ Rey are recent cases. This is merely one of many examples regarding the scarcity of merchandise for female characters, animated or otherwise. It’s a pretty rampant situation and if the article cited above is any indication, the scarcity seems to have been deliberately orchestrated on an epic level. The toxic message that girls aren’t worthy has to stop.

My daughter and I bumped up against this scarcity when it came to Scarlet Overkill. Except for an expensive t-shirt, there’s currently no merchandise for her. My daughter, whose Minion figures are collecting dust, keeps asking me things like, “Can we get a Scarlet Overkill action figure?” “What about a poster?” And with a heavy heart, I keep having to remind her that such merchandise doesn’t exist and likely never will.

So what’s a parent to do? I can’t draw fan art, sculpt action figures, or make animated music videos. Neither do I have the budget to extensively commission such things.

Image via Heather Massey

But I can write, so that’s what I did.

When it became apparent that neither merchandise nor future Scarlet Overkill film content would likely be forthcoming, I seized the reins and wrote a female-centric adventure I could enjoy with my daughter.

The result: Despicable Scarlet, a free, all-ages fan fiction redemption story about Scarlet Overkill. You’ll notice I wrote it as a screenplay. Why? Mainly to keep in line with the spirit of the story’s visual medium. Plus, I could include many elements that wouldn’t be possible in prose.

I also commissioned some beautiful art to help illustrate the story. Created by the talented Bananataffy, it includes a cover, a striking bonus illustration, and a collection of the early sketches.
Here’s the cover and story description:

DESPICABLE SCARLET picks up the adventures of supervillain Scarlet Overkill where MINIONS left off. Scarlet, along with her trusty inventor husband Herb, embarks on a revenge mission against Felonius Gru in order to reclaim “her” crown, with plans to take down the Anti-Villain League in the process. When an unexpected betrayal throws her plan into chaos, Scarlet suddenly faces the most difficult battle of her life.

I read the script to my daughter. She provided additional ideas and then surprised me with a drawing based on one of the scenes! I was so thrilled I included it as an illustration.

Despicable Scarlet is available as a free PDF download from my author site. It’s very readable, so don’t worry about encountering too much technical jargon.

Despicable Scarlet is especially geared for parents and guardians who crave more female protagonists for their daughters. Some will be old enough to read it themselves, and for others it’s best read to them. If your daughter was old enough to see Minions, she’s probably old enough for this story! Of course, feel free to vet it first.

My story includes progressive and subversive elements that not only entertain, but are also an attempt to counteract the sexism and problematic elements in Minions. In other words, Despicable Scarlet is what a Scarlet Overkill story would entail if a female creator had control over the project. It’s about reclaiming and re-imagining a faulty character and giving her not only agency, but new life altogether.

Download your copy here, and then share it with all your friends and family! And when you’re done, try creating your own stories with your favorite characters that might be ill-served by their corporate owners.

You can follow Heather on Twitter: @thgalaxyexpress @TheOverkills

Gather ‘Round, Padawans (Part Thirteen) — Kanan: The Last Padawan Redux Boogaloo

All I need to know in life I learned from Star Wars

Okay, not strictly speaking true, although the various Star Wars properties are serving to remind me of many important lessons I’ve picked up along the way many of which, to my mind, are those most important to pass along to my children.

I’ve tried to delve into different parts of the universe, the illustrative characters ranging from Ezra Bridger to Vader, the books from Obi-Wan & Anakin to those featuring the original trinity.

I find myself returning for the third time (and no walking carpets have torn my arms from my sockets to make it happen), however, to Kanan Jarrus (featured, for those following or catching up, in both part two and part six).

I guess Kanan has a lot to say, as do the writers responsible for bringing him to both screen and comic.

Property of Marvel Comics
Property of Marvel Comics

As a reader, I’m bummed that there’s only one issue left in Kanan: The Last Padawan (though I’m grateful it was extended to twelve from the originally intended five). Good news: Rebels has already been renewed for a third season, and I don’t see the journey ending anytime soon, so there are many more journeys on which we’ll be accompanying the Ghost and her crew.

I think anyone who’s been following Kanan in print will agree, however, there’s something very special about this glimpse into the past of one of the few Jedi to survive the execution of Order 66 and about the character himself who, by all rights, should have ended up a depressed hermit on some crappy border world or in thrall to the Sith.

Continue reading Gather ‘Round, Padawans (Part Thirteen) — Kanan: The Last Padawan Redux Boogaloo

Geek Speaks… Coloring Books! With Natalie Zaman and Wendy Martin

This week’s post is from GeekMom writer Natalie Zaman, who is also a writer of fantastical fiction and magical non-fiction. She’s joined by her co-author, illustrator Wendy Martin and they’re going to talk about their process in creating their project, the Totem Animal Mandala Coloring Book with Reflections for Relaxation:

Nat says…

I’ve always loved Wendy Martin’s work. I’ve watched it evolve from her Pagan-themed picture books (portraying character diversity in age, size, and ethnicity—check out Smoky and the Feast of Mabon penned by New York Times Bestselling author Cathrynne M. Valente) to wickedly detailed Art Nouveau single illustrations. Plus, we’re pals, so I was excited as well as intrigued when she suggested we do a project together.

Smoky and the Feast of Mabon tells the story of a little girl's magical Autumnal Equinox adventure.
Smoky and the Feast of Mabon tells the story of a little girl’s magical Autumnal Equinox adventure.

Sales of her ABCs of Lesser Known Goddesses coloring book had seen a surge with the adult coloring book trend. I know there are tons of coloring books on the market now, but for me, coloring has always been a “thing.” When I was teaching, I used Dover’s Cathedral Stained Glass Windows coloring book as supplemental material for the Renaissance unit that was part of the high school curriculum. Coloring unleashes creativity. It’s comforting because anyone can do it. With these pages, we turned our classroom into a cathedral, and the activity helped my students get comfortable with the period, and as a result, the poetry and plays we read seemed a little less daunting. Continue reading Geek Speaks… Coloring Books! With Natalie Zaman and Wendy Martin

‘Wonder Woman at Super Hero High’ is Super for Tweens

DC Super Hero Girls continues its path to superhero-stardom with the release of a new middle grade book series. Wonder Woman at Super Hero High, written by Lisa Yee, is out today for readers ages 8-12 years.

The novel is a look at a high school with an all-star lineup of superhero students, but the characters are so relatable that readers of any age don’t need superpowers themselves to identify with them.

Continue reading ‘Wonder Woman at Super Hero High’ is Super for Tweens

5 Things You Should Know About ‘The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD’

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a classic Wii title (and one of the best), but thanks to Nintendo, we now have Link’s adventures in the Twilight Realm in glorious HD. If you haven’t already introduced the kids to Wolf Link and Midna, this is the perfect chance to do so—and here are 5 things to know before you do.

Continue reading 5 Things You Should Know About ‘The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD’

Hogwarts or Bust! Building Excitement for a Universal Trip

Before my family visited Walt Disney World in spring 2013, I went a little crazy.

I poured over hotel room plans on Disney planning websites before we even selected a site. I studied restaurant menus and booked all our major meals at 180 days out. I joined multiple Disney forums, talked to countless helpful people, and actually made friends that I retain to this day.

As a family, we watched every Disney movie I could get my hands on. I haunted the Disney Store website for sales. I made tie-dyed T-shirts with Mickey heads on them. I made Mickey-shaped cookies. I made Mickey-shaped pancakes.

Yes. Just a little crazy.

This spring, we’re going to visit Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando, spurred on by a pair of little boys who love Harry Potter, Spider-Man, and the Jurassic Park movies. (OK, I just might be a little excited about the Wizarding World myself.) After we made the decision, I immediately jumped online and started to look into all the wonderful possibilities for researching and obsessing and planning and counting down the days. Did I have enough time to make dining reservations? How many hotels were there, again? What sort of touring plan would we want?

I was, perhaps, a tiny bit dismayed to find that obsession and long-range planning isn’t quite as necessary with the Universal parks. Dining reservations might not even be necessary with the dates we had planned, let alone reservations made 180 days ahead. Touring plans were much looser, if they were needed at all. And there didn’t seem to be many ideas for the build-the-excitement type activities I love so much. I saw a few tales of parents surprising their children with letters from Hogwarts. That was about it.

What’s a planning-happy mom to do?

Create her own, of course. Continue reading Hogwarts or Bust! Building Excitement for a Universal Trip

Why Fury Road’s Director and Movie Losses Matter To Geeky Women

Skimming through my Facebook feed on Oscar night, I saw a link to The Nerdist’s interview with Mad Max: Fury Road director, George Miller. The first question and response caught my eye because they represent a profound shift in societal acceptance that matters to me.

Nerdist: Few science fiction films have been nominated for as many Oscars as Mad Max: Fury Road. How does it feel to receive this validation for not only your work but the entire genre?

George Miller: Unexpected. Because, as you said, it’s atypical. So it is a really nice thing. But I never expected that to be the case.

Then, Mad Max won six Oscars. Six amazing Oscars representing it as an artistic piece of film. It won six Oscars, but it lost the ones that mattered to me, a geeky woman who needed this win.

Continue reading Why Fury Road’s Director and Movie Losses Matter To Geeky Women

‘Giant Days’: A Comic and My Own Personal Time Travel

Opening a good book is like sitting down to visit a good friend. Some of my best friends live in worlds I will never visit. In my wildest dreams, I sit down for coffee or a pint with Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, Francie from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and Jane from Jane Eyre. I’ve come to know these fictional women as though they were real.

Opening Giant Days, in contrast, was like taking the TARDIS back through space and time to my favorite year in college and getting to spend time, unencumbered with my best college friend. Instead of meeting fictional characters whom I want to meet in real life, I felt as though my real life was being brought to me in the fiction.

Continue reading ‘Giant Days’: A Comic and My Own Personal Time Travel

Netflix & Ill: A Sick Mom’s Survival Story

I don’t often get sick. In fact, I might boast a little of my immune system. I had a brief cold a few weeks ago, but before that? It’d been over a year since I’d been legitimately sick. And I have a preschooler and a nine year old who has to be often reminded that a) he really shouldn’t stick his fingers in his butt and b) hand washing is necessary. I was even mentioning this to my coworker earlier this week that, well, the only time I really get ill is when I get a stomach bug.

Guys, I think the viruses heard me. Continue reading Netflix & Ill: A Sick Mom’s Survival Story

Pokémon Celebrates 20 Years with Pokémon Day & #Pokémon20!

On February 27th, 1996, the first Pokémon games launched. Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green hit the Japanese market like a super-effective showdown. Today Nintendo celebrates the 20th anniversary with its many millions of fans. Join me in celebrating #Pokémon20 with our many friends around the world.

For many of us, Pokémon started as a childhood obsession in 1998, when it was released in North America. It was (almost) my first real geekdom. Sure I’ve sunk my teeth into many a passion, but Pokémon will always have a spot deep and strong in my heart (admittedly mixed up with some serious Power Ranger addiction, but that’s not for today). The first time I held a Pokémon card in hand, the first time I repeatedly smashed that “A” button, sure it would help me catch a Rattata, those moments are in my core identity as a geek. Continue reading Pokémon Celebrates 20 Years with Pokémon Day & #Pokémon20!