Of course you read books aloud to your kids often, but have you ever thought about setting aside time to cuddle and solve math problems together?
Leslie Gilbert, a math teacher and creator of MathKit, has created a collection of games to show kids that math can be a fun way to spend family time—and give them the confidence to keep trying and learning, even when they get a problem wrong.
I asked Mark why he decided to create a game. He was kind enough to tell me all about it. Please welcome him to GeekMom!
Hi, I’m Mark Lawrence, a late-starting novelist, long time research scientist, and father of four. My main occupation is actually looking after my youngest child who is 11. She’s very severely disabled and takes an enormous amount of looking after. My first book was Prince of Thorns, published in 2011.
Kickstarter campaigns can attract a lot of attention, and often it can be hard to tell which ones are truly something special. But when one is featured on the Onion’s AV Club, and is publicly backed and tweeted about by Neil Gaiman, and becomes a Kickstarter staff pick, it becomes pretty clear that something spectacular is going on. I took a few minutes to catch up with the writer of Asphodel: A Mythic Space Opera, Alex Kane!
GeekMom Mel: Welcome, Alex! Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?
Alex Kane: Thank you for having me! I guess I’m mostly a short-story writer whose work falls under the broader category of science fiction, with a bit of fantasy and horror thrown in when the mood strikes. I’m also the managing editor of The Critical Press, where I copyedit and typeset books of film criticism and cultural commentary, as well as a submissions editor for Uncanny Magazine and an executive producer on the Star Wars documentary The Prequels Strike Back.
GMM: How did you get into writing? What has your path looked like so far?
AK: In college, I discovered there was a whole world of science fiction beyond movies, games, and media tie-ins—Star Wars novels were an early gateway drug for me—and also started collecting comics, like the Dark Horse Knights of the Old Republic series by John Jackson Miller. A few years later, working full-time as a retail banker, comics would become my salvation. But it was the discovery of voices like Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Tobias Buckell, and books like King’s On Writing, that led me to try my hand at getting some short fiction published.
I’d written a really awful novel at thirteen, and had generally thought of myself as a writer for years, churning out attempts at a sequel and a number of embarrassing short stories, but by the time I was nineteen it had grown into an obsession. I made my first professional sale to Digital Science Fiction in 2011, while I was still in college, and soon thereafter earned a finalist status in the Writers of the Future contest, attended the 2013 Clarion West Writers Workshop, and made a handful of additional pro fiction sales, all the while putting pressure on myself to get better.
GMM: You have a new comic, Asphodel, up for funding on Kickstarter. What made you decide to make Asphodel a comic rather than a regular story?
AK: After Clarion West, the world started to look a lot different. I saw that a career in publishing meant making sacrifices, leaping at the first sign of an opportunity, and having the courage to really give it your absolute best shot—something that just isn’t possible when you’re working a job you hate, getting bullied by micromanaging coworkers over the phone, and having to smile through the abuse of yet another rightfully angry customer whom you can’t possibly satisfy.
That year of soul-scarring limbo saw the loss of both my paternal grandparents, a few months apart from one another, and almost zero fiction writing, despite all I’d learned at Clarion West the prior summer. But for one miserable year, I glimpsed the power of the comics medium with maximum clarity: Every day at work, even when management informed us that we were understaffed and not allowed to leave the building during lunch breaks, comic books allowed me ten to twenty minutes of blissful, absolute escape—physically, I was stuck in the break room, phones ringing all around me, but mentally? I was in the world of Eric Powell’s The Goon, or Gotham City, or some galaxy far, far away, immune to the horrors of the inevitable adulthood that lay ahead of me.
The day I put in my two weeks’ notice, I felt like Andy Dufresne crawling out the other side and getting baptized in the rain of renewed possibility. Comics had saved my life, far as I could tell, and I figured I owed it to myself, creatively, to try my hand at writing in the medium myself.
GMM: Did you know New Horizons would be reaching Pluto right during your Kickstarter? How does it feel to have a new vision of a place that you have written about?
AK: I had no idea. The story that became issue one of Asphodel began life at Clarion West in summer 2013, as a sketch I turned in for critique by Samuel R. Delany and my seventeen brilliant classmates, and I spent a year revising it in prose form, trying to get it to work—but ultimately it’s a story too big for just a short story. A novel series, or creator-owned comic, is really the best way to do justice to all the big ideas and worldbuilding.
Since it’s sort of the “crowd favorite” among the manuscripts I wrote at the workshop, I’ve made up my mind that it’s a story that deserves to be finished and done proper justice. The New Horizons images, and the incredible timing of that mission with our Kickstarter campaign, feels like only one more reason to get excited about this story I’ve spent more than a year turning into a comic book. It’ll be really useful for researching later issues, if and when the time comes.
GMM: Can you give us a quick overview of Asphodel?
AK:Asphodel is an underworld myth for space opera fans. Whenever you see a “god” of some sort in the realm of science fiction, it’s often in the form of a technologically advanced alien race, or an A.I., and I wanted to play with the concepts in Michio Kaku’s books, giving humanity a shot at godhood for once. But the characters are the real focus, and I think that really comes across well in Gale’s art style, which more closely resembles the work of cartoonists like Bryan O’Malley and Genndy Tartakovsky than mainstream comics artists. The result feels quiet and intimate, despite the galactic scope of the worldbuilding and the postwar aftermath that Vic and Sedna are caught up in.
GMM: What was it like to work with an artist? How well did she capture your vision?
AK:Gale Galligan contacted me after I posted a call for artists on a Facebook group for comics creators, and it was clear right away that she stood out for both the distinctive, professional artwork in her portfolio and her enthusiasm for the project. She really understands the kind of story I’ve wanted to tell for two years, and she’s a fantastic collaborator. It’s been amazing.
GMM: Neil Freaking Gaiman backed your Kickstarter, and then tweeted about it. That must have felt awesome.
AK: Neil’s so cool! He was my teacher during the second week of Clarion West two years ago, and he’s been an incredible source of inspiration and support. He was, by the way, not the easiest teacher to please—he really tore apart my writing piece by piece, and stitching it back together has proved to be one of the most crucial stages of my development as an artist. He really, really knows his stuff, and while I wouldn’t recommend being Neil Gaiman’s “teaching moment” to anyone looking to have their ego massaged, I will say that my writing’s benefited enormously from it. Having Neil on board with the Kickstarter and helping get the word out has really given me a nice boost in visibility, and I just love the guy. No one understands stories like he does.
GMM: What are some of your other interests? Tell us about your geek cred ;).
AK: I’m a huge Star Wars nerd, in case there was any doubt, and I play a lot of videogames. I’ve literally logged about a thousand hours in Bungie’s shared-world FPS, Destiny, and I tend to watch just about every Marvel, DC, and sci-fi movie that comes to theaters. I’m that guy who’s destroying pop culture—though I also voice my criticisms about science fiction and film pretty frequently, which I think makes up for it a little. At the end of the day, I always feel like there are too many comics in my stack, too many books on my shelf, too many movies I haven’t see and games I haven’t played yet. There’s no right or wrong way to be a geek—said the guy who’s never seen an episode of Doctor Who or Firefly—but there’s really a lot of great art being made, despite what jaded cynics on the Internet would have us all believe. Feel free to dismiss all my opinions on this if you must, though: I am one of the guys behind The Prequels Strike Back.
GMM: What were some of your inspirations growing up? Do you see ways these are reflected in your work now?
AK:The Empire Strikes Back, Attack of the Clones, Knights of the Old Republic. Halo 2! Really, I think most of my work reflects my love for all these flawed but richly drawn universes. I grew up watching space opera and playing videogames with spaceships and robots in them, so my most fruitful creative periods are usually spent developing worlds that feel a little like George Lucas’s, though mine tend to be a lot darker—more Blade Runner-meets-Alien in tone and feel. I’ll never forget the first time I read 2001: A Space Odyssey, or playing Halo 2 on day one.
Every time I move away from the genre, it’s not long before a book like Leviathan Wakes or Dark Orbit, or a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy, comes along to remind me how much life’s really left in it. Space opera has begun to grow up a little, thanks to some of the great SF writers of today. John Scalzi in particular has done a great service in making it more accessible.
GMM: So what’s up next for you? Any big plans in the works?
AK: I’ve gotten a little bit too comfortable with short fiction, and I think I’m at risk of repeating myself if I don’t take a bit of a break from it, so the next thing is either a novel or continuing the story of Asphodel with a limited series. Certainly the world of Asphodel is my focus for the foreseeable future. I have a horror novel I’m also working on, but you can never tell what’s going to happen with a particular project. If sales don’t lead to further issues of the comic book, the most likely course of action will be to write a novel set in that universe. I’ve pitched a nonfiction book on my favorite videogame, as well, and I’m still waiting to hear back from the publisher. It’s been a busy year, but I hope next year will be a whole lot busier.
GMM: Anything else you’d like to add?
AK: I’d love for anyone reading this to take a look at the Kickstarter and leave comments with any questions or feedback they might have about the comic. Asphodel represents two years’ worth of work, and it’s a real passion project for me. It has been so heartwarming and inspiring to see the reception the Kickstarter has gotten, but it’d be great if more people could share the project, and this interview, and help to get the word out—we’ve still got a long ways to go to reach our minimum funding goal, and the comic simply won’t happen if we don’t hit it.
GMM: Thanks so much for spending time with us, Alex, and best of luck with your Kickstarter!
Alex Kane is the managing editor of The Critical Press, a publisher of books on film and culture, as well as an executive producer of the Star Wars documentary The Prequels Strike Back. He also serves as a first reader for Uncanny Magazine and works full-time as a freelance copyeditor. A graduate of the 2013 Clarion West Writers Workshop, his fiction has appeared in more than a dozen venues, including the Exigencies anthology from Curbside Splendor’s Dark House imprint, edited by Richard Thomas, and he is the writer of the creator-owned comic Asphodel. His reviews and criticism have been published in Foundation, The New York Review of Science Fiction, SF Signal, and Omni, among other places. He lives in west-central Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @alexjkane.
“Journey to a distant land where bold adventurers wield magical blades against dark creatures from the shadowy depths. Thrill to the arcane power of enigmatic sorcerers as they master forbidden arts to strike down their diabolical enemies. Marvel at the courage of common folk who refuse to surrender to the tide of evil sweeping over the land. These, my friend, are the CHAMPIONS OF AETALTIS!” –Marc Tassin
I’ve been working on a really exciting project for the past couple months alongside the folks at Mechanical Muse and Aetaltis. Champions of Aetaltis is a heroic fantasy anthology that is set in author/game designer/creator Marc Tassin’s world of Aetaltis. It’s going to include stories by some of the top authors in fantasy today, and will develop the already wonderful world into something truly spectacular.
What is Aetaltis? Well, above all, it’s a fantasy world, much like people are used to seeing in Dungeons and Dragons, Forgotten Realms, and Pathfinder. What makes Aetaltis exciting is that it is a platform upon which many things can be built—games, stories, comics, art—and as we are learning, the possibilities are endless.
With the anthology, 20 popular authors, including Michael A. Stackpole, David Farland, Lucy A. Snyder, Larry Correia, David Gross, Elaine Cunningham, Ed Greenwood, Cat Rambo, and more, will be exploring the different aspects, areas, cultures, and legends of the world of Aetaltis and creating a rich story base concerning the people who live there. What excites me about this project is that it takes the tropes I grew up loving, and runs with them instead of fighting them or trying to reinvent them. Yet, the world still manages to be fresh and exciting. I asked Marc Tassin, the world’s creator, to explain this concept a little better than I can. So please, welcome Marc!
GeekMom Melanie: What makes Aetaltis different?
Marc Tassin: I’ve been asked this question a lot since I launched the Kickstarter, so I figured I’d better address it. So here we go…
Readers: What makes Aetaltis different from other classic fantasy settings?
Marc: It’s not! <Use your imagination to insert the screeching noise of the needle scraping across a record!>
Not the answer you were expecting? No problem. I’ll explain.
Anyone can break the rules, because breaking the rules is easy! Sure, it takes skill to break the rules in an artful way, but it’s not hard to smash the norms. You just go in and swap out a bunch of stuff and kick the rest over. Boom! You’re done!
But taking something beloved, embracing a long-held tradition, or working with ideas that are so deeply ingrained in our imagination that they’re the stuff “everybody knows”—taking those things and then doing something really wonderful and compelling with them? Now that is hard. In fact, it’s really hard.
That’s why Hollywood often avoids the hard thing. For example, trying to present Superman in his purest man-of-steel, heart-of-gold, “there’s always a better way,” boy scout in red underpants form without looking stupid is really, really hard. Do it wrong and it comes out really wrong since, like I said before, “everybody knows.” Hollywood can’t afford that risk. It’s way easier to skip all that and just change things up a bit. Doing it the other way is hard!
But… it’s not impossible.
Which brings us to Aetaltis. I decided that I wanted to embrace the traditions and tropes that we love about fantasy, and I took the hard road. After all, I love that stuff! I just wanted to see it done right! It’s like the artisan food movement. It’s not about avant garde departures from the norm—it’s about doing the classics exceptionally well.
So if I’ve done my job right—and if the reaction I’ve received from the authors and pre-readers is to be believed, I have—Aetaltis will give you even more of everything that made classic fantasy classic in a way that you’ll absolutely love. It will do it so artfully and respectfully that you’ll give it a place in your imagination, along with all the other wonderful worlds that it was borne from.
This is also why I turned to the authors I did. I’m not ignorant to the fact that having a New York Times bestseller on your project is a good thing (it is), but that isn’t why I asked the authors I asked. I asked them because they’re really good authors, and you need a really good author to achieve the goals I’ve set out to achieve. Like I said, doing this right is hard. Not just anyone can pull this off.
So there you go! How is Aetaltis different? In the ways that count, it isn’t—and that’s a good thing.
Thanks for reading! I hope I helped to shed some light on my goals with this ambitious project.
Thanks so much for joining us, Marc, and for explaining why Aetaltis brings the best of the old and the new together into one world. The Kickstarter campaign for Champions of Aetaltis will end on June 23, so if this sounds like something you would enjoy, I encourage you to head over and back it!
I too was a young mother, getting my degree, and not having any money to spend on “me time.” I was also a geek. Although I took my children with me to the comic book store, there were times I wanted to remember that I had a life and interests that did not involve being a mother. So I understand where you are coming from.
But when I saw your crowdfunding site to attend Otakon, I was dismayed. Should you have a weekend away from your kids? Yes! Is attending a geeky convention a great way to do it? Totally! But begging shouldn’t be your path. Begging is reserved for when your children are starving and you have no other options.
Crowdfunding is a fantastic tool for projects that require start-up capital, and the backers receive part of that project upon completion (lots of examples by artists). There are also incidents when a mother dies, leaving two young children, and the community starts a fund for the kids’ college (just happened in my town).
But asking money from internet strangers to go on vacation is akin to standing outside a movie theater begging people to buy you a ticket. You’re a mother! Be proud, resourceful, and get your priorities straight!
You are asking for $1,000. This tells me you have done no planning or creative thinking whatsoever. I went to cons when my kids were little and I had barely any money. How? Well, let me tell you from one GeekMom to another:
The Ticket: I worked at the convention and got in for free. In the last few years, I’ve been able to get a press pass through this here writing gig. Yes, if you work, you can’t go C-R-A-Z-Y because you have to, well, work. But there is always time for play. Being an adult is about balance—even on vacation.
The Food: Bring a water bottle and fill it at fountains at the convention. Go to the grocery store ahead of time and assemble sandwiches, and leave them in a cooler in your car in the garage to eat at breaks. Instant soup is also light in a bag, and all the cafes will fill up hot water for you. Make your own granola to bring along. Pretend you are your own mother—you know those fries are too expensive and won’t make you feel good anyway.
The Sleeping and Travel: Stay at someone’s house or at least share a hotel room. Travel with someone to share gas and parking. If you don’t know anyone, why are you going to a big expensive con? Go to a small, local one to meet people on the cheap instead.
The Stuff: A tiny art commission? One box of Pocky? An ice-cream treat? A fan-art keychain? Decide on one cheap thing you can spend extra money on and that’s it! To survive as a mom, you’re going to need self-control. Figure it out.
Caprice, I really hope you go to Otakon to remember that you are more than just a mom. But you need to set your sights down, realize what is financially possible, and plan ahead. And if you whine about not being able to buy that overpriced anime t-shirt, then you need to grow up. Now.
By making this post, I realize I am giving you more attention for this, but that’s OK. Personally, I’d rather give you tools than cash, so I’m not going to donate. But everyone makes their own decision visiting your crowdfunding site.
You’re going to school. Eventually, you will get a job that allows you to save enough for the geeky convention of your dreams. Just not yet. Set a good example for your kids.
You know that friend who regularly informs you that by not watching a certain show, you have missed out on the best entertainment the world has ever had to offer, and your life is lesser due to having not seen it? No, I’m not talking about the ones mourning the end of Breaking Bad. I’m talking about me, and the look of horror I get when you say you haven’t seen The Middleman.
In the wonderful but all-too-brief summer of 2008, a magical thing happened: ABC Family started airing a show with the most clever writing I’ve ever seen on television, with an engaging cast and fearless lady lead. The Middleman was based on the Viper Comics series by the same name. Of course, as you can expect with a show so brilliant, it got a mere 12 episodes before being cancelled. (See my post 6 TV Networks That Aren’t What They Started Out To Be for a bit on the problems of ABC Family’s great shows.)
Heck, the very first scene involves secretarial temp Wendy Watson at A.N.D. Laboratories (re-scrambling your DNA!) calmly dealing with an attack by what she herself calls “the hentai tentacle monster.” And it only gets better from there.
The Middleman is an all-American, clean-cut, classic hero type. Despite previously being a Navy SEAL, as Wendy points out, even his cursing repertoire consists of epithets like “jumping bananas,” “sands of Zanibar,” and “sweet mother of Preston Tucker!” His name is known only to the inimitable Ida, the android dressed as a woman who links all the Middlemen through the years. Wendy’s an artist and geek gal (a gamer who laments that she was just about to “crack the Slovakia torture dungeon level on Gut Wrencher 3”) who gets drafted into sidekick status thanks to her high skill roll in Epic Calm When Faced With Epic Weird. She’s more frequently referred to as DubDub by her roommate, Lacey. (Does Lacey look weirdly familiar? She was Debbie Pelt in True Blood. Try to watch both and imagine Debbie as Lacey. You’ll go cross-eyed.)
Now that I’ve gushed for a moment, let’s talk about the return of The Middleman, thanks to an IndieGogo campaign that as of this writing has, on its first day, already raised more than 1/3 of its $37,000 goal. Reaching their funding goal will mean producing a new comic book episode, “The Pan-Universal Parental Reconciliation,” as well as a print-on-demand service for the older books as well, as they are soon to go out of print.
“The Pan-Universal Parental Reconciliation”? Did I not mention this show had the best episode titles? Pretty much the opposite of Friends and its “The One With” formula. It’s hard to pick favorite with a list that includes “The Flying Fish Zombification,” “The Ectoplasmic Panhellenic Investigation,” and “The Vampiric Puppet Lamentation.”
Several of the most interesting perks in the campaign are already all claimed, largely due to including props from the show, such as “the screen-used mole stain that gave away the thieving Mexican wrestlers in ‘The Sino-Mexican Revelation.'” But there’s still plenty to get your hands on, from a copy of the new graphic novel to autographed prints and tickets to the cast reunion and live reading of “The Pan-Universal Parental Reconciliation.”
The what? Oh, yes. They’re getting the band back together. May 24, 2014 in LA, the cast is coming together one more time to do a reading. The Middleman, DubDub, Ida, Lacey, Noser, High-Aldwyn, and… for the role of “Comic Book Wendy,” Amber Benson. If you can be in LA on May 24, I can’t imagine not wanting to see that.
Geek gush over. You have a few things to do:
1. If you haven’t already, The Middleman DVDs. Wear them out. I know, that’s pretty tough with optical media, but I believe in you.
The first is the ability to create stretch goals. I believe having this ability results in a bigger incentive for people sharing the campaign. It’s gamification of crowdfunding. The more people share, greater is the potential for receiving funds. The more funds over the initial goal, the more perks people will receive, without having to give any extra money. Sure, people can create some sort of extra-reward system on Indiegogo, but that requires a great deal of added effort, as it isn’t something built into the system.
The second thing Kickstarter has is a larger community. Indiegogo is a great platform. For reasons beyond my comprehension, it doesn’t have the same brand power as Kickstarter, which makes it less likely that people will just stumble upon the campaign and fund it.
But, in my opinion, I think that is where the positives of Kickstarter end.
Indiegogo has many things going for it that are missing from Kickstarter.
The first is that with Indiegogo, you can have either flexible funding, or fixed funding. If you are willing to pay any extra costs out of pocket, then you can choose flexible funding, and you’ll receive all funds, minus a larger service fee. The larger service fee is waived if you reach your goal. Plus, for payments made via PayPal, you’ll receive those funds immediately. Or, if you must raise a specific amount of money to create your project, then you go with the fixed funding model, and will only receive the funds if you reach your goal.
The second advantage of Indiegogo is that they offer multiple payment methods. Backers can pay via credit card or PayPal. With United States Kickstarter projects, if your potential backers don’t have a credit card and an Amazon account, then they can’t fund your project. For UK projects, the Amazon requirement is removed, but your backers still need to have a credit card. Sure, you could always create a web site with a PayPal link, but those funds won’t count towards your total. Also, that requires more work in an already labor-intensive undertaking. They have yet to announce how payments will work for Canadian projects, but I assume it will require, at the minimum, a credit card. However, now that Canada finally has Visa debit cards, this barrier may slowly disappear. Visa debit cards in Canada are different than the ones in the United States, so they have their own set of issues that may prevent Canadians from switching to them until those issues are resolved.
The third advantage is that with Indiegogo there is no approval process. While some will argue that this can lead to sub-par projects, I’d argue that no one is under any obligation to fund or share a sub-par project. I use the same argument for celebrities who are criticised for using Kickstarter. No one is ever under any obligation to fund a project.
The fourth advantage is there are less restrictions regarding types of projects and types of perks you are allowed to offer. Here is the list of restricted perks for Indiegogo versus the restricted perks for Kickstarter. With Indiegogo, projects do not need to fall into specific categories. With Kickstarter, projects must fit into one of the following categories: art, comics, dance, design, fashion, film, food, games, music, photography, publishing, technology, and theater.
The fifth advantage is that Indiegogo doesn’t have regional restrictions. You don’t have to live in the United States, the UK, and soon-to-be Canada, to create a project. Indiegogo’s current community may be smaller than Kickstarter’s, but, because of the lack of regional restrictions, this may soon change.
I used Indiegogo to create Five Little Zombies and Fred. Even though I didn’t reach my full goal, I still consider it successful because I raised more the bare minimum I needed to get the book into the market.
Would I have gone with Kickstarter if I had the opportunity? I don’t know. If I went with Kickstarter, I would have started with a $1,000.00 goal—the bare minimum I needed—with stretched goals onwards to $10,000.00+, and it would have appeared to be more successful. But, without the ability for backers to easily use PayPal, for me that is a huge negative.
I have an idea for a second book. With the news that Kickstarter is coming to Canada, I have a lot of thinking to do about the funding platform I will use. Does a larger community and the ability to gamify my campaign outweigh the benefits of flexible funding, multiple payment options, and no approval process? That is a difficult decision.
Difficult decision or not, positives and negatives aside, I am happy that I, and other Canadians, will soon have a choice. In the end, it will come down to what I think is the smartest choice for my project. Without knowing if an Amazon account will be needed for both backers and Canadian creators, pondering this choice will be put on hold. If Amazon is required, then I will not use Kickstarter, because it is just one barrier too many for me. If Amazon is not required, well, it could be a fun experiment.
And, if the experiement doesn’t work out, there is always Indiegogo.
Welcome to Fund This, a new section of GeekMom that will focus on a few places to put some of your hard-earned cash. We’re planning to highlight interesting projects on crowdfunding websites, such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and much more. Read to make someone’s dream a reality?
This week, the section is kicking off with the STEAM Carnival. After all, who doesn’t love a carnival? It’s got fried dough, rides, and prizes. However, the STEAM Carnival is not your typical carnival. While I can’t exactly vouch for the types of fried goods that will be on display, know that this event will certainly be a thrill ride.
Here’s a crowdfunding project for all you audiophiles.
It’s the Wow Wireless bluetooth speaker and it not only sounds great, but looks great, too. Despite the huge number of speakers out there, most of them look a lot alike. They’re generally little cubes or little rectangles made of shiny metal and plastic. It’s not that they’re ugly, but they’re just not very pretty. This little speaker delivers not only great sound, but a genuinely stylish design that will add to your room.