What I Learned Manning a Communist Border Point

This weekend I was minding my own business, browsing Steam for a new game, when I was selected from the October labour lottery to be a border guard between a newly-created Communist state and the capitalist scum on the other side.

The two countries have just finished a six-year war. Terrorists, wanted criminals, and suicide bombers will be trying everything in their power to get past me.

GrumpCat Oh Great

As the makers of my new game, Papers, Please, explain:

Congratulations. 
The October labor lottery is complete. Your name was pulled.
For immediate placement, report to the Ministry of Admission at Grestin Border checkpoint.
An apartment will be provided for you and your family in East Grestin. Expect a Class-8 dwelling.
[Anna’s note: Class-8 roughly translates to ‘shit hole.’]
Glory to Arstotzka

The communist state of Arstotzka has just ended a 6-year war with neighboring Kolechia and reclaimed its rightful half of the border town, Grestin.

Your job as immigration inspector is to control the flow of people entering the Arstotzkan side of Grestin from Kolechia. Among the throngs of immigrants and visitors looking for work are hidden smugglers, spies, and terrorists.

Using only the documents provided by travelers and the Ministry of Admission’s primitive inspect, search, and fingerprint systems you must decide who can enter Arstotzka and who will be turned away or arrested.

Playing turned out to be a surprisingly psychological experience, and I learned a lot.

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The Devil is a Liar

I tried my hand at horror for the first time in this short story. Enjoy… or endure.

The Devil is a Liar

Mary was preparing dinner when the noises started up again. She had a knife raised in one hand and held a potato steady on the cutting board with the other. She aimed, and pushed the knife down, and a dull thud sounded from the attic.

Her hands jerked. The knife veered, the potato rolled, and the blade drove into its flesh so hard the tip stuck in the wooden cutting board. A fine spray of juice splattered her chest, and the crucifix round her neck was wet when she gripped it.

There was silence for a moment as her heart pulsed fast, and then the sound of something scraping across the attic floorboards. It was slow, dogged, but terrified her more than if it had stomped across the floorboards and bellowed.

Like the coyote.

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Dead Air

A short story based on the prompt ‘dead air.’

Dear Sirs

I am writing to complain about my recent flight with Dead Air.

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I chose to fly with you because you charge very reasonable fares. I was not put off by the negative reviews from relatives of your passengers, or the many sensationalist news articles condemning your business model as unethical – I personally find the profiteering of other airlines to be much more worrying (British Airways quoted me 4x the price you did!) Sadly, despite my open-mindedness I was very disappointed with the overall experience and with the customer service I received from Dead Air.

The problems began at check-in.

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Critiquette: Giving and Receiving Writing Feedback with Grace

This is the second blog post in a row I’ve written on etiquette and the irony hasn’t escaped me: yes, I am a potty-mouthed, socially inappropriate reprobate who struggles not to tell parents their babies look like elderly wizards.

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All it needs is a pointy blue hat.

It’s also ironic that I’m advising people how to be graceful. I’m roughly the size and shape of a submarine and I would sulk for three years if I ever lost at Monopoly. Not that it’ll ever happen.

But I do know about critiquery (totally a real word). And, on that note, critiquery artists are called critiquers (also a real word) because critics sounds negative.

I critique on several writers’ sites as well as privately, and I’ve completed around 50 beta reads of novels. I’ve also had close to 50 betas for my novels and short stories. I know what it’s like on both sides.

There’s a right way to do critiquery, and a wrong way to do critiquery. In fact, quite a lot of wrong ways. I know, because I did most of them when I was a n00b.

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Right (via Imagur)                                                          and very very wrong

You never, ever, want to be that poor, abused cake.

Read on to be the beautifully arranged peppers.

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Twitterquette – Or Why I Unfollowed You

Twitter is a glorious melting pot of socially awkward people blurting out thoughts that probably should have been kept private.

In fact, not a melting pot because we stay strictly in our own homes, afraid of human contact, and would never become close enough to coalesce.

Or is that just my Twitter circles?

Anyway.

The point is, I love interacting with people on Twitter in exactly the way I hate interacting with 3D people in that horrible Outside place. My good friend Kim explains why in a much more eloquent and less sweary way than me in this blog.

So it makes me sad when people do things that force me to unfollow them.

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Actual footage of me after I’ve unfollowed somebody

Then why do I do it?

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A Day in the Life of a Ball of Anxiety

It will come as no surprise to regular readers (or Twitter followers) that I have anxiety.

Diagnosed Generalised Anxiety Disorder, I mean, not just normal anxiety about money or exams or whether G.R.R Martin is going to die before he finishes Game of Thrones.

I’m outspoken about it because I spent many years suffering in unmedicated shame, too anxious and embarrassed to seek help. When I finally did, citalopram changed my life. A few days after I started it, when I drove home from work for the first time ever without going over and over every social interaction to analyse just how idiotic I’d come across, I found myself laughing maniacally at how free I felt.

So, you know, I traded anxiety for looking like something that’d escaped from a lunatic asylum in 1923, but swings and roundabouts.

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British Stereotypes – Fact or Fiction?

I realised how British I am recently when I had (minor) surgery and was too polite to tell the doctor the anaesthetic hadn’t worked.

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I didn’t want to worry her, and anyway, the automatic Brit response to any question is, “Fine, thanks.” or “Oh yes, lovely!”

For example:

Crying with pain at a massage, probably while wearing a Victorian-style bathing suit because good old British sexual repression

Masseuse: “Is the pressure okay?”

Brit: “Oh yes, lovely!”

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Two Brits in a restaurant

Brit 1: “There is an actual pube in my meal, under the mould.”

Brit 2: “Oh my god, you should complain!”

Brit 1: “I know. It’s disgusting.”

Waitress: “Hello! Is everything okay with your meal?”

Brits in unison: “Fine, thanks!”

In fact, there’s an entire Fawlty Towers episode based on the premise that Brits are unable to complain, in contrast with Americans. It’s 103% accurate.

But what about other stereotypes? Do we deserve them or not? I should probably put some sort of disclaimer that I don’t represent all Brits but this is my blog, and here I am King.

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Drunk Octopussing

drunk octopus (verb)

present participle drunk octopussing, past tense drunk octopussed, past participle drunk octopus

I drunk octopussed this evening along with Kim Watt and A.S. Akkalon. We live in three different time zones, with Akkalon a day in the future, so it was quite a feat to coordinate live drunk octopussing. Plus, she always has spoilers about what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow and if Jesus is going to drop by.

But that was nothing compared to what the residents of Erin Island have to cope with: fighting off alien octopusses while hammered out of their fecking skulls. (Fecking is deliberate because Erin Island is in Ireland, where ‘fecking’ means the same as ‘fucking’ but isn’t rude and therefore my mum can’t tell me off).

The octopusses are allergic to alcohol (why wouldn’t they be?) The only way to not-be-eaten by them is to drink until you have the approximate chemical composition of a pint of absinthe.

For purposes of this blog, the plural of ‘octopus’ is definitely ‘octopusses’ except when it’s ‘octopi’ and I refuse to be told otherwise.

After a slightly delay when some idiot (me) got the time wrong, Houston cleared us for Octo-off at 8:05pm BST which is the official time zone and no other times should exist because they confuse my little brain.

And what I learned was this:

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Things I’m Afraid Of

I’ve been attacked by bulls and oxen weighing up to 2,000kg and survived.

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I’m the one at the back, not the middle-aged man.

I watched my first horror, Nightmare on Elm Street, age 8, and loved it.

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I beat the final boss in Spyro II: Gateway to Glimmer.

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But I’m not totally fearless. In fact, I’m afraid of seven things…

1. Centipedes

Don’t trust ’em. Nobody needs that many legs for legit business.

2. Children

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