Writer. Editor. Leximaven. Game Girl. Vorpal Blonde. Bisexual Brainlicker. Midas's Touch. Schrödinger's Brat.

Saving The World [an excerpt]

posted on: February 24, 2015
in: Blog, Geek Love, Shanna's Writing

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My baby’s a superhero.

And Sweet Jesus, but she’s got her powers turned on tight tonight.

You’d think she was the only one up on that stage and not part of a five-man band, from the way she holds court, all but mouth-fucking the microphone. Girl’s got the biggest, plumpest lips you’ve ever seen, and tonight they’re the purple of just-ripe plums, of bruises, of that half-moon mark where teeth tighten together over skin.

If you can bear to take your eyes off her mouth, go down. Slow. Open neckline, dark blue curls falling against her olive skin. Hint of cleavage. Long vanilla scar down the top right of her breast. Black spandex that works her curves like no-man’s land, makes you just want to taste that shine with your tongue all over.

The band behind her, they’ve got capes over their jeans and t-shirts. But no cape for her. It gets caught in her heels, she says, but you know it’s really that it covers too much of her. She likes to show off those hot-damn hips, that fine-as-rain-ass, those missing legs that end in something different every show

Tonight they’re steel filigree from her knees down; leaves and flowers and a hundred tiny metal creatures tucked into the empty spaces. She’s got a thing for whimsy wrapped in an enigma tucked into a weapon. Her legs, her feet really, end in six-inch knifed heels that could kill a man. Probably have killed a man. I don’t ask most times, because I don’t need to know. Sometimes she tells me anyway. And that’s when I have to buy a bottle of fine-ass whiskey and walk away from her, go down to the strip where the boys play ball in corner pockets and they’re all-too-happy to wield a fist to a face, a paddle to a place where the ass meets the mind.

Up there, on that stage, she looks like she’s singing, but she’s not singing. What she’s doing is so far beyond singing there are no words. A place beyond thought and sound coming together. If I believed in God, I’d say she was making the world, one note at a time. She just opens her mouth and suddenly things are in the world that weren’t there before. You. Me. Love. The sound of your breath leaving you, never to find its way back. I guess you’d call that death.

She makes the sound that makes death and life and love and when she stops, the crowd becomes a room of silence. Waiting. Teetering. Here, she could utter one more thing and blow them all over, explode them apart. End of days and all these delicate bodies would go down smiling.

One of these nights, I expect her to do it.

Not tonight. She smiles. Takes a deep breath. Bows. Her legs shine fierce as roughcut diamonds, sharp as a hand of razor blades before the fist. Some fan in the front row reaches up to the stage and touches the very edge of her toes. The metal protects him from her, but not from himself. Coppery blood arches into the air, and he draws his hand back, clutching himself. Ask him in five years, after he’s forgotten what it was like to have a finger there, and he’ll say he’d do it all over again, just for a taste of her, just for a single life-bleeding touch.

Bloodspill raises the crowd one more notch, fists in the air, fists in each other’s faces. They’re chanting, “Val-tora! Val-tora! Val-tora!” Once in a while someone screams, “Woooonder Caaaaaapes!”

Valtora, that’s her.

The Wonders, that’s her superhero backup band.

They think she’s saving them.

No one’s cheering for me. They don’t know about me.

 

 

Valtora wasn’t always a superhero. She wasn’t even always Valtora. Life gives you letters and you make letternames. That’s the kind of stuff Valtora doesn’t say. She just does it. Survivors, we just do the things that other people mouth about.

First Valtora was Valentino. Italian mafia. Man of a hundred wives and a million hits. No one cut off any of his body parts.

Then she was Valerie. Beautiful girl with a beautiful mouth. High-class escort in the pretty city. Everyone liked her body parts. Even when they found out most of those parts weren’t original model material.

When the war blew into town, she became Val. You want a gender? Hers was tough-talk-no-takebacks and sly-in-the-night. Someone was slyer, though. Someone with a big blade and the desire to make her talk. You lose two legs at the knee, turns out the sounds that come out of your mouth aren’t words, aren’t song, aren’t nothing so much as a whole lot of fuck yous.

By the time I entered the big picture, she was already on her way to becoming Valtora. Bombshell. Vibrato. Superhero. Weapons of choice? Curves that’ll knock you sideways if you don’t look away quick enough, a voice that’ll devastate you right off a high cliff and a pair of legs that’d as soon fuck you up as run.

And me? I stand next to the stage and I get knocked on my ass by those goddamn curves. I open my veins and let that voice work its way inside me like a virus. I design those legs that’ll fuck you up. But mostly, well mostly, I save the world.

 

 

You want to know what she is, right? You’re thinking: Really a superhero? Some kind of immortal? Maybe that’s just a lie upon a lie upon a lie. Maybe she’s just a human who lost a pair of legs and a pair of balls in a suicide car over a bridge one starfucked night.

Or maybe the lie is the one you tell yourself, in those dark nights when worry and fear beats the skindrum of your ribcage and God’s on your side and there’s no such thing as devils or demons or even superheroes that can fuck you up with the slip of a tongue.

Those lies have no place in me anymore. Not with Valtora in my life.


 

[Excerpted from “Saving the World”, Geek Love: An Anthology of Full-Frontal Nerdity]. Read the rest of the story by picking up a copy of this beautiful book. It’s full of amazing stories of sexy, subversive geek boys and girls getting it on, all accompanied by art and comics. (As a point of trivia, the graphic design for Geek Love is by Bear Weiter, who is now the art director at Monte Cook Games. This was the first project he and I worked on together, way back when).

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Some Thoughts on Trust, Buying, and Business Models

posted on: February 18, 2015
in: Blog, Crowdfunding, Writing Business
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My new necklace from StitchFix.

 

In the past month, I got the following things in the mail:

  • A Barkbox, full of toys and treats for our puppy. We have a yearlong subscription and a box of random items gets delivered every month. Last month’s included a snowflake squeaky toy, stinky salmon strips, a chewy bone, and organic stew.
  • A Stitchfix box, complete with 5 items of clothing that someone else picked out for me. Similar to the Barkbox, the Stitchfix box arrives on a designated schedule and I have no idea what’s in it until it shows up.
  • Four or five Kickstarter deliveries, including Munchkin bricks, Bones miniatures, some temporary literary tattoos, and a couple of books. All of these were things I backed sometime last year.
  • An item from The Mysterious Package Company. This was a gift for my partner, and I really had no idea what to expect when I ordered it.

What do all of these have in common? Well, obviously, they were delivered in the mail. But that’s not the thing I want to talk about (although that in itself is pretty interesting–I haven’t seen so many subscription-style mail-delivery options since the CD and book clubs of my teenage years).

But what I really find interesting is that all of these products are, first and foremost, about trust. I am trusting someone I’ve never met to choose items for me (or make items for me) and then deliver them to my house via the mail. I could go to the pet store and buy treats for my dog. I could go clothes shopping. I could wait for a Kickstarter product to be produced and then, if it’s successful, go pick it up at the local bookstore or gaming store, or buy it online. Instead, I take a risk on something unseen, unknown.

Of course, the examples I listed aren’t the only ones out there — there are still music and book clubs, there are clothing options for men and kids, there are cat boxes and jewelry boxes and, of course, Kickstarters and other types of crowdfunding projects galore.

When I co-wrote Kicking It: Successful Crowdfunding with Monte Cook, we talked a lot about how crowdfunding is primarily a trust business. Do you trust the creator to make a great product and deliver it on time? Have they done other successful projects? On the other side, as a crowdfunding creator, have you made it possible for potential backers to trust you by providing amazing products in the past? By delivering as much as or more than you promised?

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Ampersand waiting patiently for her Barkbox goodies

 

I find it interesting that in most shopping experiences, the buyer won’t trust the creator of the product, but they will trust a random, unknown person who loves or hates said product. I do it too. I go to Amazon and look at a book by an author I love. If I’ve enjoyed the author’s previous work, I should just trust that the new book will also be something that I’ll enjoy, right? Instead, I read the reviews of random strangers, strangers that may or may not share my reading interests, strangers who may or may not have anything in common with me. Strangers who may NOT HAVE EVEN READ THE BOOK they are reviewing. And I am swayed by their responses. SWAYED. Sometimes away from an author that I already know and trust.

This is also true of companies. If I want to buy a pair of boots online–even from a company that I know and trust–I read the reviews. I look at what people say about the fit, the feel, the look. And then I decide whether to buy or not. 

In that case, why do I trust a random stranger over someone who I already know is skilled in their craft? I think this has a lot to do with the advent of buying things over the Internet. When I go to the bookstore, I can read a sample and make up my own mind. When I go to the shoe store, I can feel the shoe and try it on. Walk around in it. When I buy things online, I have a photo. Maybe a little write-up. That’s it. So I look for someone else to help me decide whether the product is something that I want or not.

Yet, with things like Kickstarter and Barkbox, I am trusting the creators implicitly. I am essentially giving them my money and saying, “I believe you will send me something awesome. Surprise me.” It’s an entirely different way of purchasing things. It isn’t as though one is cheaper or less important. A Barkbox and a Kindle book cost about the same. I have backed Kickstarters for more than I have spent on boots.

So why am I willing to trust the creators with one but not the other?

Perhaps it has to do with taking a safe risk. There’s something exciting about opening the Barkbox each month and seeing what new toys and treats someone else chose for the puppy. I get a tingle of fear and nervousness when I am about to dive into a Stitchfix and see what clothing might soon join my wardrobe. I love the excitement of backing a Kickstarter and watching it grow and then much later (sometimes long after I’ve forgotten about it) getting a goody box of a brand new thing in the mail. Being surprised–sometimes for good, sometimes for bad–is part of the shopping experience. It’s a calculated risk that sometimes really pays off.

Perhaps it also is a return to something that has almost entirely disappeared in our shopping experiences: A direct connection to the creator of a product. Or at least the perception of a direct connection. When I back a Kickstarter, I am backing the person behind it as much as the product. I believe that the people who run Barkbox truly love dogs, and that they will choose good things for my own dog. I like the creative minds and talented artists behind The Mysterious Package Company, and I want to support their unique concept (while also giving someone I care about a cool gift).

On the other side, I truly believe (or at least really, really hope) that people who back the Kickstarters that we put together feel connected to us as people. That they trust us, and feel safe in our hands. That they enjoy the products we make, but that they also like and support our business and life philosophies. We are selling products, yes, but hopefully the quality of those products and of the experience are also helping build real relationships between us and our buyers.

The hard part about this is that trust is tenuous, and can go sour very quickly. If you go to the store and purchase a dog toy and your dog hates it or it falls apart, you’re sad and maybe mad at the company (or yourself for your choice), but there are other dog toys and other companies and it’s no big deal.

BUT: if you trust someone else to pick a dog toy and your dog hates it or it falls apart, you feel like they have broken that trust. Even if it’s the exact same toy and the exact same issue that you had with the toy you picked yourself, it suddenly has a big emotional impact. Because in your mind, someone you trusted failed you.

Even though it’s full of pitfalls, that emotional dynamic, that consumer relationship based on trust, might actually be a good thing for both the consumers and the quality of products. If I am creating a product and a business built on trust, then I damn well better do my best to keep that trust. I better make awesome things, create strong connections, and deliver every single time. That knowledge, that understanding that people are trusting me, drives me to do better, to crush expectations, because I hold that trust sacred. Not just as a business person, but as a human being. Trust is hard. It’s scary and dangerous. Even when it’s just a business transaction. There’s a reason that we no longer do business on someone’s word and instead have contracts and legal documents. It’s because every time that trust gets broken, it makes us wary. Because it hurts to have someone break your trust, even if they didn’t mean to.

I like to believe in the good of people. In their kindness and competence and honesty. Maybe in the end, that’s why I seek to create trust relationships with creators, businesses, and my own customers. I want to be surprised and delighted by the world. I never want to outgrow the promise of the unknown. Maybe it’s a way to say, “Yes, I still believe in the goodness of other humans despite the bad. Yes, I will take the risk and trust you because I don’t want the cynicism to win.”

I also want to be the kind of business owner who gives people a reason to trust and believe. I want anyone who gets one of my products to feel the delight of opening their package and being blown away by what’s inside. I want them to rejoice in the trust they put in me, to feel smart and awesome about believing in the promise of honesty and quality.

Trust. Excitement. Creating connections. Saving the world. Making my ass look amazing in new jeans. Okay, maybe that’s too much to ask of a little brown box with a mailing label on top. But I don’t think so. Do you?

Kiss kiss bang bang, s.

 

 

 

6 (Impossible) Things Before Breakfast

posted on: February 2, 2015
in: 6 Impossible Things

Six things I loved this week:

1. The Fall. This show isn’t perfect but it’s damn fine, and it fits right into the triptych of my favorite serial killer shows, next to Hannibal and The Killing. First, I could watch Gillian Anderson in anything. In this, her character is a fierce, broken mess and I love her for it. Second, the nuanced, complicated handling of sexuality, feminism, BDSM, desire, and psychology is pretty brilliant. Nothing is simple–not gender roles, not love, not desire, not our past or present–and this show is willing to look at those incongruities straight in the face.

2. The crew that’s making the Numenera short film. Back during the original Numenera Kickstarter, we promised a short film if we hit $500,000. Of course, it was a dream goal. No way in hell did we we think that the Kickstarter was going to do that well. We should have trusted the backers, because they hit that goal and then some! Since then, we’ve been thinking about the film and who to collaborate with. No one seemed quite right. Either their skills weren’t the quality we wanted or they didn’t really get Numenera. So when Numenera fan and talented movie director Joan Manuel Valdes came to us and showed us sample of a film he was working on, we were blown away with how perfect it was. We’re paying for the film out of that original Kickstarter, and the crew is going to run a Kickstarter to raise money to make the film even more awesome. So excited about this!

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3. My Fitbit Charge. Okay, I never thought I’d love this. I really didn’t. For years, I’ve used an old-style, simple pedometer to keep track of my miles. But I often forgot it when I went walking and then I’d just be like, “Fuck it. I don’t know how many steps/miles I walked so I’ll just not worry about it for today.” But with the Fitbit, it’s on my wrist all the time. Yeah, I know it’s another step toward being tracked and watched every moment of the day, but man, I am getting my miles in. And I know how much/well I’m sleeping, which is really interesting. I thought it was odd that I could be in bed for just 5 or 6 hours and feel rested, but Fitbit tells me that’s because my sleep efficiency is somewhere between 95-99%. Please don’t ask me how it knows when I’m asleep and when I’m not, because I don’t know and I’ve just decided that it’s a disciple of Santa Claus and so it just knows such things.

4. Sunless Sea, from Failbetter Games. The motto is: Lose Your Mind. Eat Your Crew. Die. Need I say more? From the brilliant minds behind Fallen London, this game is everything you want it to be. Or I think it will be if I could stop eating my crew and dying.

5. Letterforms erasable notebooks. I know I’ve mentioned these before, because they are absolutely one of my favorite possessions, but they’ve been out of stock for a while and now they’re back. So if you want one, get one. I use mine ALL THE TIME. Seriously. Here, for example, are my “notes” from last week’s roleplaying game (I think best when I’m doodling).

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6. Your turn. What impossibly awesome things did you discover this week? Add your comment below —  I’ll do a drawing and send the winner an impossible thing that I love.

Kiss kiss bang bang, s.

Stitch Fix: In Which I Get Styled

posted on: January 26, 2015
in: Blog, Life
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Earrings from my first StitchFix box.

First things first, you should know this: I have no sense of how to dress myself. I mean, I can button a shirt and tie my shoes. But my shirt is probably the wrong color or the wrong size (seriously, I was 40 before I got properly fitted for a bra) and my shoes probably went out of style at whatever point in the past hasn’t come back into style yet. I’m better than I used to be; I grew up always wearing oversized jeans and a baggy sweatshirt and sneakers. Then I went jock (which fit, because I was). Then I went more stylish, but all black, because I had learned something about how to fit my body, but was deathly afraid that I would choose the wrong colors and pair them with the wrong colors and I figured all-black always went together. Of course, I look like death in black, but it took me a while to figure that out too.

Bring me to today. I’ve got a bit more style sense, at least for casual clothes. I like funky things from Etsy. I like geeky things. Tights. Jewelry. Shirts with a funky skirt. But when things like conventions or meetings or parties crop up, I’m utterly lost. Still.

So when the women that I went on a recent writing retreat with were all dressed awesomely, I complimented them on it with my usual bit of envy. And I said, “Man, I wish I was rich enough to have a stylist come to my house with a dozen outfits that they think would like awesome on me and say, “Yes. No. Yes.” And they were like “StitchFix.”

Turns out, there is such a thing, called StitchFix (yes, if you click the link and sign up, I get a $25 credit, which is also awesome). Basically, you tell them your sizes and what you like (and what you like to “show off” about your body) and you make a pinterest page (here’s mine) and a stylist hand-picks 5 things that she thinks you will like. You get a box, and you get to keep what you like and send back the rest. You also get to give feedback, so ideally, each time your stylist sends you stuff, she will get better and better at choosing things for you.

Things I mentioned to my stylist:

  • I like cut-outs, lace, funky shapes, and peek-a-boo elements
  • I need things that travel well and are super comfy but also casually professional for conventions and such
  • I like to show off my shoulders, a little bit of cleavage, my calves and sometimes my butt (they actually ask these things, I swear!)
  • I can’t wear white or yellow. I look good in blues, peaches, and corals.
  • I checked the box that said I wanted to spend as little as possible (this is an odd one — I am happy to spend money for things I love, but the choices are “The cheaper the better”, $50-100, $etc. and I wasn’t sure what to choose, so I went with cheap…).

I got my first box yesterday. Like a kid at Christmas morning, I got up and showered and … (wait, who showers on Christmas morning?). Anyway, I showered (not wanting to get the pieces all dog slobbery in case I had to send them back) and jumped out with my hair still wet and opened the box. I’ll be honest, I was really nervous. No one gets me, I thought. No, I didn’t really think that. But it did seem impossible that a stranger could look at a Pinterest page and a short profile and nail a box full of clothes for me.

And yet… well, I’ll let you read what happened.

I’ll go through the five pieces as I came upon them and tried them on.

1. Infinity Earrings

I love symbols! I have a dog named &, after all. So the infinity earrings (see the image at the top of this post, and all of the other images, since I’m wearing them eternally) are awesome. They’re a little larger that what I normally wear, but that makes them even cooler in my book, because they become a statement piece, especially with my hair up. LOVE the hammered silver, love the shape, love love love.

VERDICT: Total Keeper 

2. Sailor Top

Okay, it’s not actually called that, but that’s the first thing I thought when I pulled it out of the box. The second thing I thought was, “ewww.” Stripes and the white design across the boobs and the weird tomato soup flavor are so not my thing. It feels like the kind of thing that rich people on boats wear in bad movies about rich people on boats. And I have a bit of an hourglass figure, so shirts that hang big and loose in the belly always make me feel like I got suddenly pregnant. But they recommend that you try everything on before you judge it, so I did.

And it wasn’t as awful as I expected. It was… okay. I like the shape of the top half a lot, but I’m still not keen on the blue stripes/white embellishment/bottom color. I think it’s the combination of those things that make it not seem like me. Would I ever wear this shirt? I don’t know. It looks better in the photo than it does on, I think, which maybe says I’m dysmorphic about it. I can’t tell, but it was definitely my least favorite item in the box.

VERDICT: Sending it back* (Caveat: Might keep it, but that has more to do with pricing structure than my like of this piece. See end of article).

photo 3.

 3. Lovely Lace Top

This top hits almost all of my hot spots. Love the lace and the details. Love that it shows off my shoulders and my chest without being over the top. And the sides have a split seam that would look really cool over a different color bottom (if I hadn’t worn a black skirt in the photo, you could see them better). Fits me perfectly. It’s a nice light fabric that will be good for travel. It’s a little baggy over the belly, but the split seams help give it a lot more shape than the first one. If I had one wish for this piece, it would be: not black (I own SO much black already). Still, love it. Will totally wear it.

VERDICT: Keeper

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4. This dress

I asked for a dress that would go from casual to professional, that was sexy and still comfortable. I was thinking conventions or book readings or something else geeky and hoity-toity. This is the dress that I got. It is nothing that I would have picked out for myself, but only because I’m a scaredy cat. I think it is awesome.

Here’s why: Lace detailing. Sexy but comfy. The back detailing is amazing. It makes my butt look kind of awesome. Fits nicely, and is a bit stretchy.

It is, overall, less casual than I typically choose for dresses, so this is the kind of thing I’d really only wear at conventions or readings, but that’s okay. It will be great for those, I think. Also, you kind of have to wear heels with it, and I’m more of a boot girl. But I do own one pair of black heels. I’m a little worried that it might wrinkle while in a suitcase (I don’t actually know how to iron), but it’s hard to tell at this stage. My only real problem: It’s a little loose around the chest/arm area, but mostly that’s because I do NOT have a bra that works in this dress. It’s got a very unusual shape to it (even my t-backed bra stuck out), so I’ll have to buy sticks-ons or something.

VERDICT: Keeper

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Lace detailing on the front.

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Sorry about the butt in advance. Look at the back of the dress instead!

 

5. The OH MY GOD blazer

First: This freaking blazer is made of sweatshirt material. I’m not kidding. It is soft and fluffy and stretchy and I want to pet it and hug it and squeeze it and name it thank you.

The sleeves are 3/4, and pleated. They also have stripes on the inside if you wanted to fold them up. It looks fitted and professional, but is more comfortable than sin. No wrinkles. This might be THE BEST traveling jacket I have ever owned. I don’t usually go for grey, but in this case I like that it’s a really soft grey, which means you could wear it with almost any color and it would look incredible. I’m wearing the black top under it in these photos, and I think it’s a nice combo.

VERDICT: Duh. 

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Praying to the gods of sweatshirt.

 

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That’s the whole box (well, they also send you a really cool note from your stylist along with some suggestions on how to wear each piece). I’d say I made out like a bandit.

Now, here’s my promised caveat on the sailor shirt: StitchFix offers you a LARGE discount if you buy all five pieces. In fact, it’s such a large discount that I would save twice as much money by keeping all five than I would be sending back the shirt that I didn’t really like. I’m not sure what to do with that because I love everything else. So maybe I will keep it and experiment with wearing something outside my comfort zone, or maybe I will give it away to someone who will love it.

Overall, this was awesome. In general, the pieces are a little more classic than I normally go for but I think that when paired with the funky stuff I already own (like these or this), it will allow me to create a mix of casual yet professional, geeky yet pulled-together.

And of course I’ll show my stylist this blog post, so that she can see what I loved and why, and can build me a new box of even more cool stuff.

My hopes for next time: Maybe a cool skirt for spring? Something for up top in a great coral or turquoise or ?? that makes my skin and eyes look amazing? And generally more of this stuff that is comfy, casual yet looks awesome and travels well.

Feedback welcome. I have a few more days to give feedback on this box, so if you loved or hated something, let me know. Also, as I mentioned, if you want to try out StitchFix for yourself and you use this link to join, I’ll get $25 off, which is pretty awesome!

Kiss kiss bang bang, s.

P.S. A few things I forgot to mention: You can get a box every few weeks, every month, every other month, or every three months. Your choice. And the total for the styling and all five pieces was under $180.00 (with the dress being the most expensive). It’s a little more than I normally pay for clothes, but I didn’t have to go shopping and spend hours trying to find the one thing the I actually liked and then try it on under bad lights and discover that I hated it. And that is worth A LOT in my busy life.

~

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