Thursday, March 12, 2015

Writing genders

On Facebook, Chuck Wendig pointed out a controversy involving a YA author named Andrew Smith. I do not read a lot of YA fiction currently (heck, I don't read a lot of non-eighteenth-century fiction currently -- grad school will do that to you) but I'm told that his work is very good. Recently he did an interview online where in he made a sort-of-odd statement in response to being asked where all the women were in his work. Thanks to a tumblr post then commenting on the inherent sexism its author saw in Smith's response, the YA world on the Internet apparently blew up.

Smith's books are YA fiction for boys, about boys, with all the questioning of sexuality and what it means to be a man and how to find your own way in a world that is anything but clear that would seem inherent in that. There are apparently women in them, but as secondary characters at best. In today's female saturated YA market, that means his books are actually pretty unusual -- boys are not the primary YA market these days, regardless of how it has historically been (and noting that YA is a pretty modern, marketing-driven classification).

I wish (and I'm sure he does too, since he's apparently been hounded since then for his ostensibly sexist answer to the point of dropping his Facebook and Twitter accounts) that he had simply said for his answer that boys are an underserved market and, frankly, that experience is what he knows best. I'm pretty certain that's what he meant, but what I believe he meant is largely irrelevant. Really, though, anyone's interpretation of "what he meant" is equally irrelevant, including anyone accusing him of sexism.

To the extent that sexism was present, it was reflecting a cultural problem of which he is the victim as much as anyone else. That we can have a society in which women in particular can validly be a mystery to members of the other half of the world's population, to the extent that they feel awkward about their ability to represent that adolescent experience with any validity, is kinda sad -- particularly when the male experience has been so continually represented that women don't really have the option of not knowing what it's like to be a guy, literarily speaking. I would encourage Smith, if he feels he'd like to write girls and women better, to give it more of a shot -- historical ignorance is not a pass for future knowledge and skill, and less skilled writers than him have been able to pull it off reasonably well.

That being said... it's okay for him to want to write the modern male adolescent experience. Obviously that's a huge part of the story he has to tell, and I think it's a story that has a lot of resonance with boys these days and needs to be told.

What isn't okay is taking rage against the unfairnesses of the world and directing it against one person who did not actually come out and say anything like "girls are yucky." You can want to fight against harmful cultural moments and tropes all you like, but being on the side of the angels doesn't absolve you from sin. You can be just as much of an ass in pursuing your beliefs as anyone else is. The ability to do harm with words is a significant weapon. Being irresponsible with it is not actually acceptable, no matter how good your cause.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Game Design? Yes please.

So, I have hit a new game design threshold today -- I found a game system that I appreciate as a player, but I have no real interest in designing anything for it, as does the thing it does and doesn't have a lot of room for customization. That's not a bad thing, especially if your goals for game theme line up with the themes of that rules system. I'm a hippy indie gamer at heart, though, apparently, and I really have a thing for custom (or customized) rules systems that focus on bringing out a particular feel in a game. This is not to say that universal systems are bad, but rather that they aren't my choice anymore -- and I say that as someone who came up in the industry during the d20 boom.

I mention this primarily because I think one of the underrated things about game design, particularly as a woman in game design, is having opinions about games. And I don't mean ethical or cultural or feminist opinions, because those are actually expected and hang like neat little ribbons on your "game designer" badgeholder. I mean actual systems-based, mechanical opinions. And look, I have one. And it's okay to admit it. And it's still a bit vague, though that's mostly just because I think which game system it is is rather unimportant in the larger scheme.

I am really interested in the types of games minority game designers make. I'm even more interested in how they make those expressions of their beliefs and experience work mechanically in a game, assuming that they choose to do so in the first place. I think there's a lot to be learned from systems application in RPGs, and it's something we should talk about more than we do in the sort of off-center design space we inhabit.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Oscars dinner

At some point in here I got sick and behind and just didn't feel up to dealing with it, so I slacked off on the rest of the Oscar movie reviews. I'm a bad poster, and now it's far enough past that I think I may not finish out the list.

That being said, I'm totally going to post about the dinner we had. Here's the menu:
  • Whiplash: Whiplash cocktail 
  • Boyhood: Queso and chips 
  • The Imitation Game: Tea & sandwiches 
  • Selma: Grits with slow-cooked collard greens 
  • The Theory of Everything: Curried potatoes and peas 
  • American Sniper: Whiskey pulled pork 
  • Birdman: Drunken chicken and barley pilaf 
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel: Courtesans de chocolat 


Whiplash was a kick -- a real old fashioned booze cocktail. We altered the recipe a bit -- we used the rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, orange liqueur, and tequila (we couldn't get mezcal), and bitters, but we left out the spicy stuff. Instead, we used a bit of blood orange rind for garnish, because... well, citrus went well and if you've seen the movie, you'll know why a bit of "blood" seemed appropriate.


Boyhood I apparently don't have a picture for. It came together a bit late in the process -- we didn't put it on the schedule as we should have. That said, we did get it done. We made queso because that's what he and his girlfriend eat one night in Austin at an all night diner, contemplating their next steps in life.  We used the recipe for queso off this website. That gave us a lovely queso blanco dip. We used chihuahua cheese and hatch green chiles from our stash -- super good. We had roasted cauliflower just to round out the menu (and acknowledge the painful amount of whiteness in this year's Oscars) and it was discovered that the queso was fabulous on top of the cauliflower. Just saying. 

The Imitation Game

In honor of the sheer number of cups of tea and sandwiches consumed (even though Turing wasn't a fan) we had a good British Breakfast tea and tea sandwiches -- cucumber and butter, watercress and butter, and curried egg salad. These were surprisingly fun and tasty. I'd totally make tea sandwiches again, even though I wasn't expecting to like them all that much. We got ideas for fillings from this article on Food Network. 


There's really only one recognizable meal in the movie (aside from coffee and sandwiches) and that's where everyone's eating breakfast before a strategy meeting, and grits were part of that. We wanted something a bit different, though, and that's when we found this recipe for slow-cooked greens and grits. Note that the original recipe is vegan -- we used a bit of cream and butter, because we aren't vegan and creamed cashews would be a bad idea for me given my nut issues. Based on an Ethiopean dish, it was really fantastic. I can't recommend it highly enough. 

The Theory of Everything

There's a scene in The Theory of Everything where Jane (Felicity Jones) explains Stephen's work to a new acquaintance using a pea and a potato from their dinner. It seemed appropriate, then, to use peas and potatoes. My friend Cheyenne offered to make curried peas and potatoes, as she is the Mistress of Curry. It was absolutely delicious, but I couldn't begin to tell you what all was in it, as I am not even the Gofer of Curry. If you're really curious, let me know and I'll ask her. That said, really awesome. She's totally going to be making this again, perhaps with meat, but she may not realize it yet. :) 

American Sniper
So, we all kinda hated this movie, even as we saw what Bradley Cooper was trying to do with it. I think for me the movie is summed up in the scene with the rubber baby doll that they substituted for the babies who were supposed to play Chris Kyle's newborn daughter, who were unable to be there on the day they were scheduled to shoot the scene. The baby they substituted was obviously fake, and though the actors did their best... it was kind of horribly distracting because it was so obviously false. That said, the closest they came to eating was holding a barbeque, so we gave it a main dish of whiskey pulled pork, whiskey being the only other thing obviously consumed during the film. It did not want to get done -- not my favorite dish. It said 8 hrs on low, but it sort of fibbed, and ended up being 8 hrs on low and 2 hours on high. And it still wasn't entirely tender! Argh. That said, the flavor was good. I'd make it again though with longer to cook, or at a higher temp. 

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

This was a huge year for drinking in films. Birdman is one of those drinking films -- the only things consumed were alcohol of some brown variety, vodka, and a leg of chicken on the stage. We therefore went for drunken chicken, a really amazing and really drunken recipe based on a South African dish. For the people who said it turned out dry, I can't explain it -- maybe they didn't marinate it long enough? We left it overnight, and it turned out fantastic, with a wine sauce and the barley pilaf with apricots and prunes and almonds. So very, very good. Will totally make again. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

So, these were towers of iced cream puffs filled with chocolate custard cream, held together with buttercream icing, and topped with a chocolate covered espresso bean. The recipe for this came from a 3-minute Wes Anderson film in which he shows how the signature dish from the bakery in the film, the one M. Gustave uses to make friends in prison. The ones in the movie were a bit less Seussian in appearance, but given that it was my first time making cream puffs and that they were completely amazing to eat, I'll take that hit. I enjoyed making these tremendously, and they've ignited an interest in French pastry for me. With that in mind, who knows what next year will bring!