Ghosts in the IM: Conversations Between Writers

Andrea Phillips


Andrea is a multi-faceted storyteller. You can learn more about her at You can read her work at http://lucysmokeheart.comhere and she can be found on Twitter.


Andrea Phillips: 😀

Minerva Zimmerman: Pirates. I wanna talk about pirates.


MZ: You have a series of short novels about a pirate captain and I’m curious what it is about pirates that drew you? I mean obviously pirates are awesome, but what it is it in particular for you?

AP: Actually “pirates are awesome” is exactly it. I wanted to do a longer-term project for reasons of discipline and possibly revenue stream, funded on Kickstarter. So when you go to Kickstarter, you have to consider what it is that you’re good at, and what it is that The Internet likes and might potentially be into backing even if they don’t know you *personally* So I literally made a list titled “things that are awesome”

MZ: 😀

AP: It was like: Ninjas, pirates, zombies, games…

MZ: I’m with you on everything but zombies

AP: I’m not sure why “pirates” is the one that stuck. This name Lucy Smokeheart kinda popped into my head, and I thought it was super hokey and planned to change it later. But it turns out it was hokey in the I-secretly-love-it way and not the this-is-seriously-just-a-placeholder way

MZ: I do love it when that happens. I have a pirate character named Lawless McCord.

AP: That is ALSO AWESOME. How piratey are your pirates?

MZ: and there’s actually an in-world reason for it and everything.

AP: Because the funny thing about pirates is mostly they’re not… actually… particularly piratey at all?

MZ: Pretty piratey. He’s a privateer for the Emperor

AP: Wow, exciting!

MZ: so, I guess he’d never consider himself a pirate.

AP: My pirates are a sort of Disney super sanitized version of piracy. No actual pirating ever occurs. It’s all socialist lizard-people and enormous chocolate sculptures all up in here 🙂

MZ: That’s pretty awesome

AP: I mostly aim to amuse myself and have a good time with it, though that can be hard sometimes

MZ: I hear you’re knee-deep in revising your novel Revision these days. Does that ever get inception-y?

AP: Ahhhhhahah I make so many jokes about that. So many.

MZ: that’s good!

AP: The sequel will be Advanced Review Copy. Followed up by All Edits, Complete Draft, and Working Title.

MZ: I love this so much.

AP: 🙂 It’s a weird feeling, actually, revising Revision. In my line of work, I don’t often get a chance to redraft as I see fit after the manuscript has had time to cool. I do a lot of just-in-time writing, and 85% of the time my first draft is what goes.

MZ: I don’t think I’m actually aware what your line of work is?

AP: So I’m drowning in this luxury of being able to see what isn’t so great and *fix it now*

Oh! I’m a game designer? Or more precisely I make immersive and interactive experiences for games and for marketing campaigns. I am a *transmedia pundit*!

MZ: I was thinking by your description it was either games or comics 🙂

AP: It can be a tough business *cough cough gamergate* But I think there are things you can do in interactive media you can’t do any other way. I’m planning to do a project called Attachment Study hopefully next year, that is among other things the story of a character *falling in love with you* over email

MZ: oh how cool

AP: Man romance novels are awesome but *falling in love with you* is better ^_^

Dragon Age, you know? Are you a Bioware player? Do you have a crush on Alistair?

MZ: I have not, I was super hard-core Warcraft at the time I should have played it.

AP: It was FREE for PC yesterday. Maybe it still is! It’s still worth the play, I would highly recommend it 🙂

MZ: How long is a play-through?

AP: Hmmmm I think 40 hours-ish?

MZ: oh that’s not bad. I’m a pretty obsessive player so I don’t do much else when I play games.

AP: It’s not SUPER long. I mean it’s not like Skyrim. Yeah me neither, it’s sort of an issue for me, the binge-playing So I don’t buy and start a game unless I know I can lose a week of productivity

I binge-work, too, which I guess makes up for it?

MZ: I’m actually using my obsessive gamer tendencies to un-screw all my habits with HabitRPG right now

AP: Oh! I’ve started using HabitRPG! I’m very bad at it.

MZ: it seems to be almost written for how I obsess

AP: Which is embarrassing because my habits are things like “take a shower” and “take your vitamins”

MZ:…uh, why is that embarrassing? I thought that is what it is for 😀

AP: it’s embarrassing that those are my habits I’m trying to do and I *still cannot do them*

MZ: both of those are literally ON MY LIST RIGHT NOW

AP: Oh man that makes me feel better, actually. You know the thing about comparing yourself to how you THINK other people are? I have a bad case of that

MZ: apparently I motivate through gold and loots

AP: See, I’m more a cheevies kinda person. Cookie Clicker, man. The dumbest game in the world BUT SO MANY ACHIEVEMENTS TO EARN

MZ: the pet collecting is what gets me. It’s why I stayed with Warcraft waaaaaay past the rest of the game being any fun

AP: I haven’t gone that far in yet! I only just recently started, so I don’t quite know how to play yet

MZ: Oh! You have to get to uhm level 4 I think? and then you start getting random loots

AP: I had hit level 2 and then I died

MZ: but it doesn’t hurt to die at low levels very much

AP: I had dumb cancer last week so I used that as my excuse to spend several days as a hedonistic slob

MZ: sounds legit. You can check yourself into the INN when you’re not up to doing stuff

AP: Oh man that’s a thing?

MZ: totes. It’s very well designed, and only unlocks stuff at a gradual pace so you don’t get overwhelmed

AP: I used to do very well with Health Month. The community angle was pretty helpful to me

But there’s a weird sort of struggle I have around structure and habits

MZ: with this you can form parties and do quests, fight monsters, by succeeding at your tasks

AP: …I’m sitting here thinking “maybe I should fold a basket of laundry tonight to get some more points”

MZ: yeah, this is the first thing that’s really seemed to work in any sustainable way for me

AP: You are a good influence on me!

MZ: I also decided to only make my own laundry my task and have made everyone else in the household fold their own laundry. It’s just too overwhelming otherwise

AP: That’s awesome. I long for the day when my children are old enough for that

MZ: I also have an entire shelving unit dedicated to putting clean laundry until it gets folded

cause folding is stupid pants

AP: We sort of have a swamp of clean laundry on the floor of our closet *hangs head in shame*

MZ: Yeah, the shelving unit was my upgrade from clean laundry swamp

AP: Hahah

MZ: cause, changing our actual habits was totally not going to happen 🙂

AP: It’s good to be able to acknowledge these deep truths about yourself. I mean, sometimes you just have to admit that you’re not that person. ^_^

MZ: I am not a lot of people, especially organized people

AP: Aaaaahhhahahah I’m not a gardener, no matter how much I wish I was.

MZ: oh, me either… and I so very much wish I was

AP: It’s a nice dream, isn’t it? The pottering and the fresh flowers and your own tomatoes

But then you actually go outside and it’s buggy and there’s the stupid sun

MZ: My house looks like a white trash version of Sleeping Beauty with blackberry vines taking over everything

AP: And everything is totally horrible in every possible way. We have raspberries in our back yard! I planted them long ago before I knew I was not a gardener

MZ: We have 2 acres and a barn!

AP: They do well here, but not so well that it’s a problem like they might in other parts of the country. Oh man that’s amazing

MZ: it is until the blackberries start to take over

AP: But!

MZ: and then you’re out there like Ash in Evil Dead with a trimmer.

AP: You get to eat blackberries! Warm from the sun!

MZ: it’s true, that’s pretty awesome. What else has been warming up your brain meats recently?

AP: Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm I’ve been thinking a lot about feminist stuff

And talking a lot about feminist stuff I am a Strident Feminist, you know!

MZ: …you chew a lot of gum? 😀

AP: Hahaha No but seriously, issues of fairness and representation are really important to me, so I try to *talk* about it

MZ: Yeah, my loved ones are apparently sick of me talking about feminist stuff of late to the point where they have arguments with feminist me in their head without me saying a word. It’s pretty awesome. All the outcome, none of the work.

AP: I don’t always have the energy for it, but I seem to have the fight in me right now.

Oh dude that’s fantastic

MZ: I suspect I’m contagious and everyone ends up with a little me inside their head causing problems eventually

AP: The interesting thing is I don’t get as much pushback as I always expect

MZ: It is getting better.

AP: You know, I think the internet as a whole is getting better. I was just saying today, I think comments sections are getting better

MZ: People are more aware, and there’s less ignorance or disbelief now.

AP: I look at YouTube comments on a random video and they’re… you know, FINE. I hit a random blog and skim the comments and they’re not always Just and Progressive, but they’re usually better than not. Maybe this says something about me and my browsing and viewing habits, but I really do think the etiquette for how we expect people to behave online is maturing

MZ: I think the past 6 months or so have shined a very bright light and scattered some of the cockroaches.

AP: Yeah.

MZ: I mean clearly we haven’t managed to exterminate them, but it’s a start.

AP: Now if only we could get harassment and incitement to harass made into actual crimes

…Not that I trust our current batch of lawmakers to do that in a sensible way, but jeez, some of the behaviors we see shouldn’t be legal if you ask me ^_^ It’s a complicated thing, isn’t it?

MZ: I think we just need precedence to show that they fall under current laws of stalking and the like.

AP: And a legal system that recognizes that “just don’t go online” is not a viable solution

MZ: I’m not sure if new legislation would help as much as enforcing current ones in digital spaces. Right. I don’t know about you, but I live in a very rural area, so the internet is the vast majority of my social connections.

AP: I live in the suburbs of New York, but the internet is still the vast majority of my social connections. Working at home, you know, and never going much of anywhere. There’s a problem writers have of living too much in the mind and not enough in the body. That’s part of it, I should probably just get out more in a super basic sense 😉

MZ: I have also put all of my stretching exercises on my habit list 🙂 because of this

AP: For a while I was swimming about a kilometer a day, and it was fantastic! Very meditative and definitely helped my stress levels

MZ: I like walking. I need to take more walks. So much beautiful stuff around here and I never get out in it.

AP: Especially after I found goggles that did not leak

MZ: That is terribly important.

AP: Exercise, man. Outdoor exercise is Not For Me because skin cancer, but I always liked hiking

MZ: The museum I work for has an interpretive trails site near my house I should spend more time at.

AP: Oh neat!

MZ: Especially since I can take the dogs.

AP: Museums are awesome in general

MZ: I just need to get them little orange vests for right now because of hunting season.

AP: I have a crush on weird quirky museums that have like fifteen things in them. It’s interesting to think about how those objects are all there because at some point they were very important to somebody

MZ: I wish my museum only had 15 things! I’m in charge of the things. And I don’t have an exact number but it’s more like 50,000

AP: That is a *lot of things* OK so It’s like the warehouse at the end of Indiana Jones, right?

MZ: …yes

AP: Promise me it’s just like that 😀

MZ: actually I have a building that looks a lot like that, with the crates and everything

AP: …and you have the stencil, right?

MZ: I keep meaning to make one

AP: I mean basically in my mind you just transformed into that dude at the end of the movie

MZ: Hey, I managed to hide a Ghostbusters quote in my exhibit. I’m pretty happy about that.

AP: Though it’s possible my vision is wavering a little bit with The Librarian. Ahaha! Which quote?!


AP: Oh man That’s amazing

MZ: I warn you, I am about to make you feel really old with a museum thing I’ve been dealing with.

AP: This is OK

MZ: But current K-8 students, were born between 1996 and 2009

AP: Oh yeah I have two of them ~_^

MZ: the things they have no reference for is amazing

AP: When they were toddlers they would take pictures with their play phones

MZ: I was trying to explain this to a roomful of 80 year olds the other day

AP: The idea of a phone you can’t take pictures with is weird to them. It took each of them until they were 6 or 7 to understand “that TV show is not on right now”

MZ: I get hit with the hard explanations on both ends of the age spectrum 🙂

AP: Oh man yeah that could be a neat trick!

MZ: I was trying to explain that to get kids to understand a record player, I also have to explain…y’know.. CDs and tape players

AP: Yep! My kids don’t remember cars that didn’t lock with a key fob, or roll-up window handles

MZ: and that items they have laying around in their closets are exactly the sort of things I’d like to have for hands-on learning even though it isn’t “old” to an 80 year old.

AP: Ahahaha. I can just imagine. To bring this back a little — my older one recently found the iron in the closet and was super baffled…She does not remember ever seeing it used…

MZ: and that these kids don’t remember a time the US wasn’t at war.

AP: Yeah, that one is sobering. I was raised in the USAF so I have a slightly different relationship with war

MZ: it’s just weird on a museum end, because I have WWII stuff coming out of my damned ears but… I don’t have much for military stuff past Korean War

AP: For most kids today it’s very abstract. But when I was 9 or so I was reading military nuclear war survival manuals for some reason. This is the thing I super loved when I read Watchmen — only a few years ago

MZ: Cold War stuff, I remember having bomb drills in school.

AP: It *so perfectly* captures that zeitgeist of the 80s, that feeling that we were all going to die at any moment in a nuclear holocaust

MZ: exactly!

AP: It really did feel like the edge of the end of the world

MZ: and then the early 90s was when we all started feeling like the country was going to rip apart from the inside and be a civil war… and then it all turned into TV pundits instead of fighting.

AP: I dunno, I remember feeling in the early 90s like maybe it was all going to be OK

MZ: I lived in Seattle 🙂

AP: The Berlin Wall coming down

MZ: Grunge was a very Dark Time.

AP: For a while it looked like there would be peace in Israel, before Rabin got shot. Jesus Jones and Right Here, Right Now, you know? ~_^

MZ: yeah ok, like 89-92 was pretty good

AP: But yeah it didn’t last

MZ: nope. sigh.

AP: For a little while when Obama first came in it felt like that again — hopeful. But it’s been a very long time at this point.

MZ: and now it feels like I should get to scream “Dystopian Novels were not HOW TO BOOKS!!!”

AP: Yeah. Oh gosh there’s this whole thing I feel like one of the roles of science fiction is to show what the future can be like, right?

MZ: Absolutely.

AP: But that puts us at the mercy of horrible futures. Because it’s a lot harder to drum up drama in a utopia I mean utopian fiction where the utopia doesn’t have a Dark Flaw is fundamentally more challenging to write, which is why you see less of it. I keep trying to figure out how to write a story for which the message is, “providing a basic minimum income for all people would be a good idea”. But how do you take something like that and make it into a story that’s… you know… not a super boring economic treatise?!

MZ: Yesterday Kate Elliot and Daniel José Older, and Rosefox were talking about the subversive power of happy endings.

AP: Oh yeah?

MZ: Yeah, that showing happiness for people society says don’t get happy endings is a subversive act. That really appeals to me right now and I think SF/F doesn’t get enough happy endings in general

AP: Actually this is one of the things about Lucy Smokeheart So OK it’s a super goofy and not at all serious project, right? I have an Artisitic Statement about it floating around somewhere, and basically it says it’s my rejection of the Game of Thrones aesthetic where everything is horrible forever and there is no narrative justice. I *miss* narrative justice and I wish it would make a roaring comeback, I’m so tired of gritty and realistic.

MZ: I think you can be realistic without being gritty

AP: Do you remember the humor SF in the 80s? There was a ton of it back then

MZ: I mean, my going and getting a coffee is rarely a gritty experience unless the grinder is broken. YES!!! I LOVE IT

AP: The Myth Adventures series, Stainless Steel Rat

MZ: I’m trying to bring some of that back too.

AP: We used to know how to have fun, man. What happened to fun?!

MZ: I think humor is under utilized and a lot of SF authors who write “humor” write it like… Heavy Metal style “humor” so there’s all sorts of gross stuff, and that’s not what I want at all

AP: Mmmmm yeah. I really dig what Mur Lafferty’s done with her Shambling Guide and so on

MZ: I want characters who have fun and get in absurd situations and know its absurd but make the best of it.

AP: And of course there’s still Terry Pratchett But I feel like funny-SF just isn’t out there in the market very much these days

MZ: Yes. I’m slowly rationing myself through the Discworld books, because they make me so happy.

AP: Hahah

MZ: generally we do them audiobook in the car on long trips

AP: I love them but I can’t read too many or I stop enjoying them! Like eating too much candy

MZ: Audiobooks are good for that

AP: Alas I don’t spend enough time in a car for audiobooks

MZ: They are also awesome for house-cleaning

AP: I put like… three thousand miles a year on my car

MZ: then I feel like I am multi-tasking

AP: I used to listen to podcasts at the gym. Man I used to have such good habits, what happened to me?! Tsk

MZ: Is there anything else you want to make sure we talk about?

AP: Wait wait

Let’s talk about


Man now I’m trying to think of something amazing and hilarious

And of course I can’t

MZ: tap-dancing newts?


MZ: I mean they’d have to get tap shoes otherwise they’d just go “slush”

AP: I don’t think they’d do so well in shoes. It would be like putting a toddler on roller skates

They wouldn’t know what to do without toe suction!

MZ: /is totally checking YouTube for toddlers in roller-skate videos now

AP: I think we need to make this happen

MZ: Ok, who do we know that can make tiny webbed tap shoes?

AP: I bet there are thousands of those. Because parents are horrible. The videos, I mean, not the newt shoes

MZ: …I dunno maybe I should check etsy, someone might make newt tap shoes

AP: Gotta be I mean surely this falls under some subcategory of Rule 34

MZ: a crafting subcategory? If a weird craft item doesn’t already exist…

AP: Yeahhhh. You know about Regretsy? It is the best thing.

MZ: it’s gooooone


MZ: /cry


MZ: it was the best thing…

AP: This is the very saddest thing in the world.

MZ: I’m sorry, I thought you knewand now I want to write humor sf in which someone mourns Regretsy in a regrettable way

AP: Wow it’s been down since January of LAST YEAR. That shows you how up on my latest breaking internet news I am. You should write that story.

MZ: I only found out recently. Well, unfortunately my family apparently would like to eat some time today… so I should get going. Gah, humans… it’s like they think they should eat more than once a day.

AP: All right. It’s been lovely talking to you!