She’s the best-selling science fiction and paranormal romance author and “SciFi Encounters” columnist for the USA Today “Happily Ever After” blog. However, Veronica Scott grew up in a house with a library as its heart. Dad loved science fiction, Mom loved ancient history, and Veronica thought there needed to be more romance in everything. When she ran out of books to read, she started writing her own stories.
Three-time winner of the Galaxy Award, as well as a National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award, Veronica is also the proud recipient of a NASA Exceptional Service Medal relating to her former day job, not her romances!
Thanks for inviting me to be your guest!
I love doing research and for my science fiction novels, I’m often doing a deep dive into odd things that I’m going to adapt for my future galactic civilization known as the Sectors.
The first topic I geeked out about for a specific book was the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, because my first published SF novel was Wreck of the Nebula Dream, loosely inspired by the Titanic’s sinking. (I’ve always been fascinated by Titanic though.)
For that book, I researched anything and everything to do with the real-life tragedy, including the ship’s design, its passengers and crew, premonitions and superstitions connected to the event, the cargo… I enjoyed the creative exercise of applying that wealth of detail to a luxury cruiser roaming the star lanes. For my recent best-seller, Star Cruise: Marooned, I researched the world of the charter yacht, which is somewhat different in nature than a liner.
The second thing I’ve geeked out about for my SF world is Special Forces military operators.
My heroes are pretty much always in that line of work and my goal is to create men who could walk into any bar on Earth today where SEALs and Rangers gather, and be accepted as members of the brotherhood.
My late husband was a Marine, so I’m very supportive of the military in general, have had SEAL and Ranger authors as guests on my blog in the past… but as actual research, I’ve read numerous real-life accounts, asked a lot of questions, subscribe to a (public) Special Forces-oriented website to stay current, have been to at least one conference I’m not allowed to discuss….
I guess by now you can tell my definition of “geek out” isn’t about the hardware or the science, so much as it is about the world-building and the people.
I worked at JPL [NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory] for many years and totally geeked out over everything built and managed there, from Mars rovers to space telescopes, so it’s not that I’m not into those things! We’ll count that as the third thing for this column.
Nothing like looking at the actual flight hardware that’s going to be on another planet or watching a giant multi-legged robot cross the street in front of you. And yes, a lot of the engineers and scientists who work there could be characters on The Big Bang Theory. Maybe slightly exaggerated, but there’s a resemblance. Being in the room with those guys and gals is amazing. Some of the finest scientific and technical minds anywhere on Earth. I feel very privileged to have supported the efforts from my business-oriented vantage point as a contracts person.
The fourth thing I’ve geeked out about, which certainly influenced me as an author, would be comic books. As a kid, I had thousands squirreled away in my bedroom, mostly DC comics. I wasn’t into Marvel then, other than Thor. Two of my all-time favorites were Magnus Robot Fighter and Brothers of the Spear.
Interviewing John Scalzi, which I got to do for my USA Today “Happily Ever After SciFi Encounters” column. Talking to him was fascinating! His mind goes a mile a minute in a good way and as an interviewer, I absolutely felt motivated to try to ask him questions he hadn’t been asked before a million times. Discussing the processes of writing a novel, comparing notes with him, was like a Masters’ class for me. Really a rare and memorable experience!
Meg Antille works long hours on the charter cruise ship Far Horizon so she can send credits home to her family. Working hard to earn a promotion to a better post (and better pay), Meg has no time for romance.
Former Special Forces soldier Red Thomsill only took the berth on the Far Horizon in hopes of getting to know Meg better, but so far she’s kept him at a polite distance. A scheduled stopover on the idyllic beach of a nature preserve planet may be his last chance to impress the girl.
But when one of the passengers is attacked by a wild animal it becomes clear that conditions on the lushly forested Dantaralon aren’t as advertised—the ranger station is deserted, the defensive perimeter is down…and then the Far Horizon’s shuttle abruptly leaves without any of them.
Marooned on the dangerous outback world, romance is the least of their concerns, and yet Meg and Red cannot help being drawn to each other once they see how well they work together. But can they survive long enough to see their romance through? Or will the wild alien planet defeat them, ending their romance and their lives before anything can really begin?
Andi Watson has created a creepy-cute romance with the new graphic novel, Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula. The Princess is overwhelmed taking care of the business of the Underworld while her father convalescences in bed and complains about his food. In comes a pastry chef vampire, Count Spatula, who sees the stress the Princess is under, and tries to help.
Andi was kind enough to answer a few questions about this sweet gothic tale.
GEEKMOM: What was your inspiration for the story and characters?
ANDI WATSON: As always with a book, several different elements have to come together to spark things off. Most importantly I wanted to create a full length graphic novel for the first time in my career, a challenge I hadn’t met after many years of making comics. At first I was a bit intimidated, knowing I’d have to write the whole thing ahead of time, but that became an advantage as I could go back and forth over the course of the story, adding and taking away scenes and dialogue. I loved being able to clearly see the overall shape of the story, something it’s quite hard to do when I’m serialising. The other inspirations came from my sketchbooks. Both Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula had been lurking in the pages in separate stories for years, but neither of their stories worked alone. It was only when I put them together that the book fell into place. I love it when that happens.
GM: Did you see romance right away for the Princess and Count?
ANDI: One of things I wanted to achieve with the book was tell a relationship story, a romance that would be fun to write and draw. I’ve told “real world” romance stories before, and enjoyed writing the dialogue and creating characters. The slight downside is that I’ve found them a bit less fun to draw. It’s often two or more people in a room talking. That’s a real challenge to keep visually interesting, so I wanted to combine a relationship story with a strong visual element and I found I enjoyed drawing the spooky stuff. Having more freedom to play visually and allowing my imagination a bit more of a free reign was a real treat. That the Princess has the cute bat-wing hair and the Count is a vampire made it extra fun to draw. Add to that, designing all the other characters and I had a blast.
GM: The relationship between the Princess and King changes over the course of the book. What’s the message about father/daughter dynamics?
ANDI: Yes, I thought it would be interesting to explore the family dynamics of who’s in charge and who is driving things behind the scenes. The child has adult responsibilities without being allowed her own choices, while the King enjoys power with none of the obligations. The adult is the child and vice-versa. The shape of the story follows how that balance changes. I’m not sure I have a message about father/daughter dynamics, although I am interested in them, being dad to a daughter myself. One thing that strikes you as a parent very early on is how much and how little power you have over your kids. On the one hand you’re completely responsible for every aspect of their lives, on the other you can’t make a child eat, you can’t make them sleep, and you can’t make them stop crying. You are utterly helpless, as any parent with a crying toddler on a long haul flight knows! As children grow up that divide is less stark but you’re still trying to juggle how much responsibility to give a child and also the anxiety that comes from letting them go little by little. Perhaps this whole book is about my daughter becoming a teenager and my wanting to take to my bed and hide!
GM: The Count’s fun desserts like Mud Monster Cake and Lemon Drizzle Cake were charming to see and imagine the taste! Do you bake? What’s your favorite dessert to make or eat?
ANDI: Yes, I began baking with my daughter when she was little. We both enjoyed making a mess and eating the results. I hadn’t baked since school so it was the perfect way to begin again as the emphasis was on fun and play, not on some exquisitely presented end product. As long as it was edible we were happy. I’ve continued baking over the years, which is why it was a joy to invent the Count’s set-piece desserts. My job was to flick through recipe books and doodle ideas in my sketchbook… it was tough, I tell you. Sadly, my own skills fall well short of the Count’s, but I do enjoy making quick and simple recipes like cookies, rock cakes, fairy cakes and the like. I’ll have a go with fondant icing for birthdays. Past projects have included Minions from Despicable Me and a crash landed Tardis. I also made a traditional Yule log over Christmas that turned out all right. The recipe my family likes best is a chocolate cake with Terry’s Chocolate Orange ganache. Super sweet and easy to make.
GM: Finally, what project are you currently working on?
ANDI: I have a couple of books in the bag, including my webcomic Princess Midnight which finishes up at the end of January. I’ve also finished a graphic novel for grown ups that I’m hoping to find a publisher for. As for brand new stuff, I’ve finished writing another spooky graphic novel that I’ll start drawing and aim to have done by the summer.
A few months ago, many of the the other writers here at GeekMom and I fell in love with Backward Compatible, a Young Adult novel about gamers Katie and George forging a relationship with each other. The characters spoke to many of us and we all found ourselves quoting along with the Monty Python references and laughing at the multiple references to Firefly, Portal, and more.
It has been a difficult six months for author Sarah Daltry but both she and her Backward Compatible co-author Pete Clark agreed to talk to us about the book, future projects, and whether or not aliens exist…
GeekMom: Where did the concept of Backward Compatible first come from?
Sarah Daltry: So, basically, I had written a few books before it. One wasn’t out yet, because it was with the publisher, and the others were intense emotional realistic romance about characters with severe depression, anxiety, and trauma in their pasts.
The thing with that series is that it was eating away at me for two reasons. One, my own life was closely tied to a lot of the things in it, at least emotionally, and I was struggling to get through writing Blue Rose and Orange Blossom simultaneously. After finishing Lily of the Valley, I hadn’t really been able to stop being in that place where I needed to go to write about depression.
Secondly, because the series is, at heart, a love story about finding hope even in darkness, it was reaching a bigger romance audience. There’s a lot of sex and people were coming to me telling me that the sex scenes were really hot, including the ones that were traumatizing and were meant to highlight some of the darker parts of the characters. That bothered me and I put the series aside and went to Pete, my fellow gamer and Borderlands addict, and said, “Can we write something fun? About video games? I need a break.”
Pete Clark: Sarah came me to me and said, “Can we write something fun? About video games?” To which, I replied, “Yup.” And thus Backward Compatible was born.
How did you come to co-write the book with Pete Clark?
Sarah: Pete and I go way back. We game together all the time and he was a natural choice, because we don’t write at all in the same genres, but we’ve taken several writing classes together, been in writing groups together, and always read each other’s stuff. So I knew what I would be dealing with, as did he, and we were able to build off the other’s strengths.
Pete: As Sarah said, she asked me to write a book with her. I figured that, even though she’s sometimes a bit of a camper and not a very good shot, she’s “quick with a joke and she’ll light up your smoke,” even though neither of us smoke. I figured what the hell, and I love video games. I hadn’t yet written a book about them. It seemed like a good idea and then Lanyon showed up.
GeekMom: Did you set out specific characters or chapters that each of you would write in advance or did it grow more organically?
Sarah: It was a combination of both. We decided immediately it would be in alternating first person, mainly because I started it and that’s my POV of choice. I’m a huge YA addict, reader, advocate, etc. from my previous work in schools as a teacher and librarian and all my favorite classics are in first person. So I wrote the first chapter as Katie and then gave it to Pete to write George. We alternated throughout, with him sending me George’s most recent additions and I would add Katie’s and then send it back.
In that way, it was kind of like one of those writing exercises where everyone tells the story and it developed organically because we literally only knew it was about two gamers who met and had a relationship when we started. The secret boss appeared in a section Pete sent me and we went with it, as did most of the pieces.
Pete: She pretty much covered it. Basically, I knew she was writing the female POV and I was writing the male POV, we would alternate, and it would be about gaming. We just sort of moved forward based on the last section the other wrote, and because of the alternating, it felt more realistic. It was a lot of, “here’s what your characters are doing now,” rather than having to set it all up myself. Also, I’d set something up, then she’d smack it in a different direction, and I had to react. It was pretty fun.
GeekMom: Are there any other authors you would like the opportunity to work with?
Sarah: I really don’t think co-writing would naturally work for me, because I’m a bit of a control freak. When people ask why I self-publish, that’s really what it comes down to, since I don’t like trusting others with my ideas or my work. I like knowing what’s happening at all times, because my experiences have made me pretty self-sufficient. However, since Pete and I are close and we always talk about writing and gaming and life in general, it worked well and I would be happy to team up again.
Pete: Co-writing with most people would be an impossible pain in the ass. You sort of have to have similar philosophies, backgrounds, and ideas for the overall story. You also need to be really flexible and adaptable to what the person is going to do and, in most cases, that would involve a lot of outlining, plot development, and pre-writing, which is not something I enjoy.
GeekMom: What books have you been reading lately and which ones from the past have really made an impact in your life?
Sarah:Catcher in the Rye [J.D. Salinger] and The Sun Also Rises [Ernest Hemingway] had the most impact on me, because they were realistic and captured something people generally don’t talk about. Lately, I have a giant TBR pile, but nothing has been really sticking with me. I’m so excited for All the Rage by Courtney Summers, but that’s not coming until April .
Pete: I’m working my way through Game of Thrones. I really like Douglas Adams, as far as impact, because his books show how much you can do when you throw out all the rules and write chaos.
GeekMom: The majority of Sarah’s other books are romance stories, even erotica; how different did you find working on Backward Compatible in comparison?
Sarah: I actually took down all my erotica (although my New Adult series has a great deal of sex in it) and what’s funny is I really don’t consider myself a romance writer.
I like relationships and how they evolve. My urban fantasy is romance, but it’s about a romance between a college girl and two immortals, and my New Adult series is more about breaking free from assumptions and judgements. The main girl is from a perfect world and she’s always been expected to be one way, but it gets shaken up when she meets a guy she would never have expected to matter to her. He, on the other hand, has given up on people. So, in that way, really, all my books tend to be about people who are a little on the edges trying to find their own “normal.” And I like to give them relationships, because I like to hope that everyone can find someone who makes them feel happy to be who or what they are, regardless of social expectations or social attitudes.
What I tend to find is that all of my books seem to get the same reactions—a lot of people hate the characters, especially the girls, and find them “whiny” or “slutty” or “rude.” I don’t get it, because they’re nothing alike. Katie is nothing like Nora from Bitter Fruits or Lily from Flowering, but I’ve finally begun to accept that the problem is that they’re all, in a way, pieces of me. And I’m not normal and I struggle to relate to people, so I guess all my books are about people who don’t make sense—and the ones who also don’t make sense seem to relate and everyone else misses the point. So Backward Compatible was really the epitome of all that. A story about two people who probably never get noticed or, when they do, it’s negative a lot of the time. But, together, they’re just fine. (It’s a little to do with the title, too, which is obviously a play on words for gaming, but also that they’re both considered socially “backward.”)
Pete: This question is obviously not for me, so please make up an answer for me while picturing me tap dancing in a giant bunny suit.
GeekMom: How closely (or not) do Katie and George’s lives reflect your own at their age? Did you grow up thinking of yourself as a geek?
Sarah: For the most part, their lives are exactly like mine at that age and not really that different from my life now. Except rather than college, I have a job. I worked sometimes during the school breaks, but in New England, our semester breaks were about three weeks and usually, between snow and holidays, work was reserved for on campus jobs during school and a summer job (Katie works at a day camp in the summers, which isn’t really addressed in the book). I was a teacher, too, so my breaks pretty recently were a lot like theirs—staying up and playing Xbox all night!
Growing up, I knew I was a nerd, because people made sure I knew it. When I was in school, it wasn’t really cool to be a geek or nerd. I’m really happy we’ve stopped that attitude, although sometimes I think it’s a little fake. It also bothers me to see divisiveness in geek and nerd culture, like “you’re not nerdy enough because you only saw the new Doctor Who” or “you haven’t read Silmarillion, so you aren’t a real Tolkien fan.” In my experience, being a nerd meant I had no friends and was always told I wasn’t the “right” kind of anything, so I guess I don’t get how people who’ve been there can then turn around and be so judgemental.
Pete: No specific events are from my own life, but I used my own experiences of winter break and gaming for a framework for the book. I don’t remember categorizing myself as a geek, although other people seemed to do it for me. I played a lot of sports and I had a lot of friends, but I was nerdy as hell and plenty of people told me so.
GeekMom: What Hogwarts house do you pledge allegiance to?
Sarah: Ravenclaw. I am 100% Ravenclaw, yet 99% of those online quizzes put me in Hufflepuff. But I’m all about learning for the sake of learning. I’m more of a nerd than a geek, I guess, because my pop culture knowledge is decent, but I’m not really the type who quotes things regularly, unless it’s classic poetry or some fact or trivia detail no one cares about.
Pete: Ignore her. She’s 100% Hufflepuff. I’m mostly Ravenclaw, because that’s the coolest name and they’re thinkers, which I like. However, I am also a little Slytherin, because I would love all-encompassing power and crushing my enemies with green colored spells that murder them.
GeekMom: What’s the geekiest thing you’ve ever done?
Sarah:Jeopardy is #1 on my DVR and I’ve been called in to audition twice. Is that geeky? I used to play Vampire: The Masquerade (it was actually inspiration for my urban fantasy novel), including LARP. I’m sort of terrified of people and leaving the house, though, so I guess most of my geeky stuff involves Xbox, like playing games multiple times to see all the endings or get all the collectibles. Or watching entire TV series on Netflix over a weekend. If I have to go out and talk to people, I tend to not do it.
Pete: At a comic book convention, I got into an argument with famed writer, Chris Claremont, about how much his character, Jubilee [X-Men], sucked.
GeekMom: Do you consider yourself a gamer? What video games have you enjoyed over the years?
Sarah: Hell yeah. I have enjoyed all of the games. 😀 Seriously, I play way more Xbox than any mature adult should admit to, but that’s okay. I really love it. I also have every other system, even going back to the old ones, because you never know when a game like Heavy Rain will come out and you need to have a PS3 handy. I haven’t gotten the new ones yet, but I will.
Pete: I am definitely a gamer. Get comfortable. There are a many games I have enjoyed. From my early days of loving Pac Man, Q-Bert, Dig Dug, Rolling Thunder, Gauntlet, Shinobi, Double Dragon, Demon Attack, Spider Fighter, Defender… okay I will stop there. Also, current games, such as all the Bioshock and Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed games (although III was disappointing), anything with Arkham in the title, anything by Naughty Dog, and a whole bunch of others.
GeekMom: There are a lot of Monty Python references in the book, was that something you grew up with? What are your favorite sketches?
Sarah: I grew up watching it, but I didn’t have cable and I don’t even know if it was actually on, but in high school, all my friends seemed to have it somehow, so I learned all about it that way. Obviously, I’ve seen Holy Grail a million times, but I think it was Meaning of Life I actually saw first. But the parrot sketch was my introduction to Monty Python and I know I’m not going out on a limb with that one, but because it was my first, it’s probably that. You have to understand—I grew up in the 80s and early 90s with no cable, a Commodore 64, and parents who hated TV and still listened to 8-tracks. My pop culture exposure was delayed.
Pete: I’ve sort of always liked Monty Python, but I would never classify myself as a die-hard fan. I’ve seen it and enjoyed it, but wasn’t the kid coming in and talking about the Spanish Inquisition and what not. I do love Holy Grail and most of my references are very Grail-centric.
GeekMom: How do you imagine George & Katie’s story continuing? Do you think we might see a sequel on day?
Sarah: A sequel has been in discussion since shortly after finishing this one. I really do want to write it, because I like the idea. One thing that irritates me about movies, books, TV, etc., though, is when people take something that exists and just keep beating it over your head because it was good the first time, and that scares me a lot. I don’t want to write a sequel just because people liked the first one, but because there’s a plan that really speaks to us. However, we do have a solid plan. It’s just not solid enough to make it official at this point, because we haven’t gotten all that far in it. Pete’s really resistant to the idea of sharing until we know it’s written.
Pete: A sequel is tempting, because I really like the characters and the style of the story and I had a lot of fun tucking in the Easter eggs. However, you have to be careful, because it can hard to recreate what worked the first time, and no one wants to be The Matrix and ruin their own story.
GeekMom: You have a new YA Fantasy novel out called Primordial Dust, can you tell us a bit about it?
Sarah: What’s hard for me, I think, as a writer, is that I never intended to be locked into this idea as a smut writer. I wrote some erotica, while I was writing novels, because I already had it written and it wasn’t any good. But there was a market for it. However, as I tried to evolve my writing, I realized it was not what I wanted to be known for writing and I took it down. I still have this whole endless back and forth internal debate about my Flowering series—do I keep the sex or take it out? Really, I love YA. I want to write YA and I want people to take YA seriously. I also enjoy NA [New Adult], but I think that the label has become convoluted.
To me, NA was an extension of YA. It was a little more mature, probably with sex and maybe violence and drugs or more vulgarity (like Backward Compatible), but along the line, we have begun to call Fifty Shades of Grey New Adult. How? I have never met a college girl who ends up in a relationship with a billionaire sadist. All YA, even fantasy and dystopian YA, speaks to the key themes of growing up in some fashion, and I guess I expected NA to do the same.
Backward Compatible isn’t deep, but it’s still about connecting to someone and letting go of things that have clung to you from high school. (I know it’s a small part, but still).
Anyway, that’s not really about Primordial Dust, but I do think I struggle to find my audience because this book is PG. There is no swearing. The violence is there, but it’s certainly not graphic. And there is only a veiled hint at the relationships and the degree of the physical nature of them. So people who think my books are erotic are going to be confused and then I feel like others won’t give me much of a chance because they think I write smut.
This book took me three years to write. It’s a story of morality, of a princess growing up and watching her kingdom fall, mostly due to the lies that kept it running for her entire life. It’s both fantasy and realistic, in the way that it’s a fable for life. About how our choices define us, but we are often pawns for other people’s choices. It’s nothing like my other stuff, although it is also just like my other books, because it’s about defining yourself. It’s about accepting your own flaws and coming to terms with what you want rather than what you’re told to want. I tend to draw from this theme a lot, because it’s really the theme of my own life. Even still in my 30s. We all tend to define ourselves more by the words and actions of others than by our own words and actions and that’s really sad.
GeekMom: And to finish up: Best roller coaster you’ve ever ridden?
Sarah: I can’t decide between all the roller coasters at Cedar Point (I used to love Disaster Transport!), although I think my favorites were DT, the Gemini, and Iron Dragon, because they’re fun without having excessively long lines and also you didn’t feel like they were made to be bigger or faster, but just to be awesome. Also, I was pleasantly surprised at Space Mountain in Disneyland Paris. It may have been because it was raining and there were no lines so we just rode it again and again. Actually, the Paris Disney has better roller coasters than the one in Florida, but they don’t have much else. Except signs in French, and when you’re a stupid American like me, that’s kind of cool.
Pete: I’m not a big fan of roller coasters. I get nauseous in cars and boats and sometimes the Subway. I mean the sandwich shop. That being said, I’ve tried a couple and although I will certainly be mocked as it’s far from the most badass coaster in the world, I do like the Rock n’ Roller Coaster in Disney. I rode that three times in a row and it was fun. In comparison, Space Mountain sucked.
GeekMom: Film that scared you the most?
Sarah: Okay, this makes no sense, because it wasn’t that scary, but for some reason, I was in tears watching Insidious in the theater. It’s creepy, yes, but apparently that day was just a day when I wanted to be terrified and I was scared to death during it. However, for long-lasting effect, I would say The Exorcist had the scariest plot. I thought the movie was dumb, but then couldn’t sleep for a few days because the idea bugged me. The Blair Witch Project still scares me every time I see it. But really, if you want to be scared… play Silent Hill instead.
Pete: The scariest movie I ever saw was The Blair Witch Project. We saw it opening weekend in a small theater and it was packed, but silent. Everyone was into it during the showing and it’s the kind of movie that you need that to get the most out of it. It’s one of the only movies when I remember thinking, “God, I wish it was daytime.” The most disturbing scene—although it may not be disturbing to most—is in Pet Semetary when Rachel’s mom, who’s dead, comes back to berate her. That scene is messed up, man.
GeekMom: Do you believe in aliens?
Sarah: Yes and no. I believe it’s a little arrogant to think that we are the only real “human” life in all of space, but I also don’t believe in any of the nonsense in science fiction. I just think the universe is really big.
Pete: Since there are more planets that the human mind can conceivably fathom, I think it’s safe to say that something is probably living on some of those. Do I think they’re getting all Jackson Pollack with our crops? No.
GeekMom: Dinosaurs or Dragons?
Sarah: Dragons. Need I say more?
Pete: They’re both pretty awesome. Dragons are dinosaurs, in a way, but cooler versions. T-Rexes are cool, but dragons would beat them down.
I’ve never been all that big a fan of romance as a genre. I think the biggest problem I’ve always had with it is that is simply doesn’t represent who I am. OK, so that statement could apply to most of us unless of course you were painted lounging naked on a chaise lounge on the Titanic, but if you’re reading a website called GeekMom I’m sure you get my point. Romantic films always seem to be about girls who have a secret desire to have boys propose their undying love in front of the whole school/holiday camp/castle. If you’re like me, then having someone drag you into the spotlight for any reason is enough to trigger a panic attack that will last several days and being crowned prom queen is probably the most embarrassing and cringe-worthy things that you could imagine.
Backward Compatible is a boy-meets-girl romance for people like me. It opens at a midnight release for the 10th installment of fictional game Fatal Destiny X where George (cosplaying as a druid character named Wayfarer) meets Katie (cosplaying Syntania, a scantily clad mage) and soon introduces a cast of characters I felt like I already knew. There’s Lanyon the best-friend who I’m sure was based on one of my high-school friends, Seynar the somewhat arrogant blogger who believes everyone wants to read his opinions of The Desolation of Smaug despite only having 12 followers, and a host of other random gamer types. The plot follows George and Katie’s exploits through both the real world of their new found friendship and also online in FDX as they and their friends team up, gathering the weapons they need to fight the game’s ultimate hidden Boss.
The book is crammed full of more references than an entire season of Community, and not just the soft-core ones that anyone who’s seen Star Wars will get. The level of obscurity attained inside these pages is enough to impress even the most die-hard nerd. There’s an impressively involved Portal gag, a joke about Christopher Tolkien, and more Python references than you can shake a heavily-laden swallow at; plus the characters even occasionally swear in the Firefly style. At first the constant referencing felt forced, as if the authors were intentionally trying to cram as many in-jokes onto each page as possible, but the style soon settled down and soon it felt more natural. Once you got to know the characters it seemed obvious that they would tell a Denny’s waitress how many pancakes they wanted by announcing that “three is the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be three.”
As a lot of the plot follows the characters playing FDX, the gaming talk comes thick and fast (insert countless jokes about grinding at this point). I’m not a hardcore gamer so a few went over my head but even my husband who has never played an MMO, RPG, or anything along those lines in his life enjoyed the book and had no problems figuring out what was going on. Of course a familiarity with that world is going to enhance your appreciation of the book exponentially but most people who’ll pick this book up will have no problems there. Gaming also plays a large part in one of the most traditionally romantic parts of the book, when George writes a poem for Katie. However unlike poems in most other books this one includes the line, “You are the weapon at my spawn point.” It’s a very specific line for a very specific kind of girl, but for the right girl it’s about as romantic as it comes.
I absolutely loved this book. It was about people who represented me and it was set in the real-life world I have inhabited since my early teens. I wanted the characters to be real so I could talk to them and become friends (also FDX sounds pretty freaking awesome). OK, so I’m a married mom and so have left the awkward dating phase behind, but this is still my world. I hope we get another book in the series where we can meet George and Katie a few years on and see how their relationship has progressed. After all, staying up all night to grind and level your character is a lot trickier when you’ve got a baby—just saying!
GeekMom received this product for review purposes.
I’ve been married to my best friend for nearly 20 years. I’m not saying this to be saccharine, but to emphasize the point that we are comfortable around each other to a fault… We get each other’s jokes and have learned each other’s flaws (not always pretty, I’ll admit), and we enjoy the occasional “date night.”
However, the person I’m with has become so familiar, I wonder what would happen if we took a step back and looked at each other for the first time. Would I be happy with what I see? More importantly, would he? I know I’m a compatible wife, mom, and friend, but would I still make for a good date? After all, I am a colossal, yet fun, nerd.
To test my “dating prowess” I recently looked over The Geek’s Guide to Dating (Quirk Books) by Eric Smith, to ready myself to get back on the hypothetical horse… or Stormtrooper Speederbike, as it were.
First, I have to find out what type of “geek” I am: Book Geek? Gamer? Movie Geek? It looks like many of us are a combination of these. I know I am.
Next, where should I go to meet geeks and non-geeks. Smith offers suggestions. Arcade? No seems kind of predatory and gross. Online? Uh, definitely not me. Bookstore? Bingo! This one is still where my husband and I like to visit on both family and date nights. One of the sexiest smells to me is books and Earl Grey, but I’ve said too much.
Smith goes on in later chapters to discuss approaching someone for a date and preparing for the date (apparently ladies like a man in red, but I can’t say I’ve ever found Santa Claus or Waldo attractive). His dark jeans with a blazer idea… go for it, boys!
There’s talk about the date itself, of course, followed by where to go from there, should said date go well, but I won’t share too much yet. As River Song would say… “Spoilers!” I will cede he has some very fun suggestions all couples would enjoy, and some I’ve actually done (see: “The At-Home Mini Film Festival”).
Although this book includes a brief “note for the geek gal” stating these principles pertain to everyone, the book is written with a guy-to-guy angle. However, I like that, because what he is saying to his fellow geek dudes (and all men, actually) is great, and much of it is what we geek gals (or all gals, for that matter) have been trying to say. There were a couple of areas where I felt like I had pointed one of Douglas Adams’s “Point of View Guns” at him, so he could see where I’m coming from. This was particularly true for me with his myth-busting section that includes the “Princess Problem,” MPDG (Manic Pixie Dream Girl) Dilemma,” and “Impossible Standards Deviation.” Concerning the latter, he stresses how the image of wildly proportioned women in comic books aren’t reality and structurally unsound, to mention “real” actresses:
“You can’t expect RL ladies to look like fictional characters played by actresses and enhanced with CGI, SFX, perfect lighting, Photoshop, and body doubles… If you yourself don’t inspire comparisons to guys like He-Man and James Bond, imagine how normal women feel about being compared to She-Ra and Pussy Galore.”
Yes! Thank you, Smith for saying this.
Smith does try too hard to drive home the “I’m a real geek” point by lacing his writings with an almost constant stream of geeky references from video games, movies, television series, tech talk, and more, which sometimes gets in the way of his point he is trying to make. Unfortunately taking a look at my own dialogue, I can often be guilty of the same thing.
Most importantly, though, I have to congratulate Smith for not turning a “dating” book into a “looking to score” book. He makes it very clear that “exchanging DNA” isn’t something you want to do while you are still trying to make a significant connection to another person, including taking an established friendship to the next level. As a mom, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that “old fashioned” value amidst the high tech world of dating.
The book ends with a dose of reality. Not all successful dates mean successful relationships. Getting dumped and breaking up happens, and handling it gracefully is key. Just like in comics and games, there is always a remake, reboot, or resurrection.
Perhaps, this modern, pop culture infested book isn’t for geeks at all, but rather for a lost demographic that seems to be fading each day—the Gentleman. For that I say “Bravo, Smith, and May The Force Be With You.”
Lisa received a copy of this book for review purposes.
Imagine a community where you could get the low-down on every guy in town—what they are really like to date?
That’s The Cute Girl Network in the fictional town of Brookport in a new graphic novel published by First Second. The two writers MK Reed and G. Means, and artist Joe Flood, collaborated on the project. The story revolves around a newcomer to Brookport: a skater-chick named Jane, who falls for sweet, but hapless Jack. She is pulled into The Cute Girl Network, with horrible stories of Jack. Will she trust her instincts? Or her new girlfriends? The graphic novel comes out November 12th.
I had the opportunity to interview the creators, and I love their answers! Check it out:
GeekMom: Three collaborators on a graphic novel. How did that come about? How did the process work throughout the project?
MK: We did it through the magic of the internet. Greg and I wrote the script over Google Docs, which allowed us to both contribute parts & do rewrites of each other’s sections and have it all up-to-date in one file while working from opposite sides of the country. Joe came along after First Second had picked it up, and thumbnailed the book, sent it to us for feedback, and then turned in the finished art a year later.
Greg: MK and Joe have been good friends for years. They take road trips together and he sleeps on her couch sometimes. I was always hoping to team them up on a project, luckily the stars aligned for this one.
Joe: I was nervous about having two writers at first, I assumed that would translate into twice as many notes, two pairs of eyes scrutinizing every line I draw. But it turns out Greg and MK complement each other, they have a wonderful Yin and Yang thing going. I guess that would make me the poorly drawn dragon wrapped around it when it’s tattooed on the back of some dude’s neck.
GeekMom: I have to admit, as soon as the “Vampyr Moon” conversation began, I rolled my eyes thinking it would be yet another bash-fest about Twilight. But the conversation in the book was more real than I expected—with fair viewpoints. Although I’m not a fan of the Twilight series myself, I find the extreme negativity associated with it very distasteful. So thank you for that. Thoughts on it? The excerpt at the end was hilarious. Who decided to put that in? How fun was that to write?
MK: The Twihards take a lot of BS for their love, but it’s certainly not significantly more ridiculous than the rest of comic, sci-fi, & fantasy fandoms. That said, I completely disagree with its messages (as I understand them without having read the books*), but that’s what made it so fun to parody.
*Our book designer Colleen first told me about this ridiculous vampire romance series in maybe 2006 or 2007, and I listened to the first twenty minutes of the audiobook before I found Bella to be UNBEARABLE.
Greg: The “Vampyr Boyfriend” excerpt at the end was MK’s idea. She’s great at that stuff. Check out her fake fantasy novel in her previous book AMERICUS for proof. We’ve got to get her do a full prose novel one of these days.
GeekMom: I see Joe lives in Brooklyn. Was that the template for the fantastic wide shots of the city in the book? I love the details.
Joe: I’m glad you enjoyed them. Hopefully I got most of the details right because I was drawing from memory. Shortly after being signed onto the book I moved to Atlanta, because my wife was going to grad school there. I was very homesick for 13 months I was working on the art, desperately trying to remember the home I had recently left. The city of Brookport is an amalgamation of Brooklyn and Portland, MK and Greg’s homes respectively. Having visited Portland, OR once briefly, I based most of the city scapes on Brooklyn. I had lived there for most of my adult life. (Grew up in NJ, lived a few years in Manhattan before settling in Brooklyn.) I’m happy to report that I’m back in the NY area, living in the suburbs. The prospect of ever moving back to Brooklyn, remains to be seen.
GeekMom: “Look, those network girls all seemed perfectly nice…but if we were in first grade together, I’d be shoving them in the mud and they’d be calling me a poop face.” This is one of my favorite quotes from the book. Jane is helping out with a project about little girls on the playground, but she doesn’t like them. She also doesn’t have a lot in common with most of the women her age, either, yet she is able to live with them. What are you trying to say about how girls interact vs how women interact?
MK: Adults are a bit better at trying to find some common ground, and can disagree without being enemies for life. Sometimes.
GeekMom: The “cute girl network” is painted as just a gossipy bunch of bitter women. Do you think there could be a positive form of the “network”?
MK: There’s totally a different book to be written where Harriet is a bad-ass who saves unsuspecting women from jerks left and right, and if we did a sequel that’s probably what we’d aim to write.
GeekMom: In Jane and Jack’s relationship, she is the motivated one for career plans, and Jack is in the supportive role. Do you think this is becoming more common in real life?
MK: It’s definitely become more socially acceptable.
Greg: I think Jack would make a great stay-at-home dad someday.
Joe: I aspire to be a stay-at-home dad.
GeekMom: Jack’s two roommates are great characters. How did you come up with them and their house dynamic?
Greg: Gil and Rose are based on two friends from my old day job. When we worked together, there was always lots of joking and bickering but when I needed their help, they’d swoop in and save the day. In real life, they liked to give me dating advice too. Some good, some not so good.
GeekMom: I would put this book in the 16+ category, mostly for the casual sex. Greg, as a librarian, how would you file your own book?
Greg: Yeah, 16+ sounds good. At my library, we have juvenile, YA, and adult graphic novel sections. I’d put The Cute Girl Network in adult. Though, I think as a teenager, I would have loved this book. I was always curious about how people in their 20s lived once they were free of school and parents. I probably would have romanticized Jack’s minimum wage job and windowless apartment.
Thanks so much for giving us some insight into The Cute Girl Network!
I suppose it was time. I heard an interview on the radio with Harris who had made the decision to end the series when she found herself becoming bored several books back. I applaud that decision. There’s nothing worse than a talented author ruining their own series by not knowing when to quit. But I love Sookie!
When I reviewed the previous book in the series, I mentioned that this was my first foray into vampire romance. What I didn’t mention was it was a gateway drug/book into ALL paranormal romance. During the decade (I didn’t catch the series right at the beginning fifteen years ago) I have been reading about Sookie and her supernatural lovers, I have myself created stories in this genre.
Harris’ take on romance, sex,— and yes, violence, was inspiring to my imagination. While enjoying her perfect blend, I wrote a screenplay called I Hate Fairie Princesses which, although it will never see the light of day, itself inspired an album’s worth of songs about supernatural characters: their lives, their loves. Although my stories have nothing to do with Harris’ world, she showed me that modern-day fantasy is good stuff.
Although I loved the sexy men in this series, it was Sookie that made it worthwhile to read. She blended feminine with capable, kind with tough, loyal with independence. Although she possessed magical powers, it was her resourceful nature, intelligence, and trying to be a good person, that saw her through.
Thank, Charlaine for the decade of good reading. I look forward to meeting your next heroine.