Archive for February, 2009

My Brilliant Career, Chapter One: Computer Game Developers Conference 1990

I fell into the computer game world by accident.

I was a nanny for the Bechtel family in Atherton, CA in 1990 and was thinking about doing some writing on the side. A friend who worked in games suggested I go to the Computer Game Developers Conference. It was one of the first conferences, and was held in San Jose that year.

The Bechtel kids loved video games, and I had helped organize an amazing Super Mario themed birthday party in their back yard, including an obstacle course based on the first level of Super Mario Land, manned by a tall guy dressed up in a Mario costume. So, I knew a bit about these games, I thought.

Turns out there was a big difference between video games and computer games. Many of the computer games back then were still quite geeky. As in, you read some text on the screen, you solve some puzzles, you lead your guy around on a treasure hunt to find things to put in his bag so you can get to the next part of the story, where you read some more stuff on the screen.

I’m not so into puzzles, actually.

But my friend said those companies needed writers and creative types, and he gave me the name of the conference organizers. I met with them a few weeks before hand, to figure out what game guys actually did, and what a game writer might actually write about.

I drove out to Campbell, near San Jose, and met these two middle-aged, sweet and very nerdy geeks who were working on “Interactive Fantasy” games. As in sci-fi type stuff, you know (but I didn’t, really). They suggested I get business cards made up and list my title as “Interactive Fantasy Writer.” So I did.

Turns out being a cute 23 year old girl handing out “Fantasy Writer” business cards at a game geek conference in the early 1990’s is a shoe-in for attention. Well, just being female helped, too.

I usually don’t mind attention, but I was slightly overwhelmed by this crowd, so I wandered over to the Carnegie Mellon table because they had a good sign. They were recruiting people to their OZ project, which was AI and Computer Science merged with theater. I have a BA in English and a BFA in Theater, for the record. I love the Wizard of Oz, so of course I was interested.

The main guy there was Joseph Bates. He was the head of the OZ department, and he had good social skills, in a college professor sort of way, so I stayed near him.

[Side Note: I haven’t thought of him for years, and forgot his name, actually. But I saved his business card, and found it this morning. I’ve moved six times since then. I have a garage full of packed boxes I haven’t opened in at 4 years, but I found this guy’s card in 5 minutes. I’m impressed with myself. Aren’t you?]

Mr. Bates wanted me to apply for their OZ project program which matched up drama students with AI and computer science students. My GPA (from a tiny liberal arts college) was high, he sensed that I was dramatic, so he thought I’d be perfect for them.

Carnegie Mellon? Me? Hello? I had to Google it just now to make sure I spelled it correctly, because “Melon” is a real word, but it just didn’t look right next to Carnegie.

I may seem smart in person, but my SAT scores were low enough for me to promptly forget the exact number, mostly because at the time I was hanging out with a few perfect SAT score Stanford Grad students, and it was best for all of us when I said “Oh, I can’t remember my SAT scores. They were much lower than yours, of course.”

I mean, these people are real-life rocket scientists now, know what I’m saying? My housemate had her Master’s in Materials Science and was working on developing hazardous gas sensors back in 1990. I didn’t even know what Materials Science really was. I was smart enough to know it didn’t involve fabric, even though my grandmother referred to fabric as material. And I was glad there were people thinking about hazardous gas sensors, because they seem like an important thing.

So, I personally had no desire to take the GRE and embarrass Mr. Bates, or myself with the results. I figured I wasn’t smart enough or rich enough for Carnegie Mellon. But I enjoyed hanging out with them.

It wasn’t long before I wound up in the middle of a crowd of nerdy game geeks. Literally. Several of them asked for my card, which had my phone number on it.

Boy Geeks are smart. And surprisingly brave. And sometimes cute, and I did end up going on a few dates with one of those guys, but I’ll tell that story another time.

Alas, I didn’t actually get any writing jobs from that conference, and I kept my day job with the Bechtels. But it was a great job, I have to say, so it wasn’t really a hardship. I planned several more good parties with them.

Later, however, I did get an interview with Noah Falstein from LucasArts Games who I’d met at that conference. He liked me (in a professional way!) and I liked him, but they didn’t have any jobs for writers at the time. He wanted to hire me, send me to school to learning basic programming, and then work me into a game designer role.

As if. Me? A programmer? Not.

I asked Noah if he could get me an interview at SkyWalker Ranch, since it seemed to me they might need someone like me up there to work with George Lucas. He claimed he couldn’t, sorry, but they were two separate companies.


I think he was just irritated that I rejected his incredibly gracious offer to help jump start my career in game development, despite my complete lack of knowledge about anything in the genre. He was willing to take a chance on me, and in retrospect, I wonder if I was stupid not to have taken the job.

But seriously? You would not want me programming your games. Just messing with the HTML in Blogger to get my pictures right has been known to make me cry, and I would have embarrassed myself and Mr. Falstein trying to learn C, with or without the ++.

The good news is, all this game conference and LucasArts interviewing stuff made me seem like and actual game girl, so it was pretty easy to get more interviews, and then a short term contract with Dynamix, a Sierra Online company,  to do some research for an educational history game. They eventually hired me full time, and boom, I was in.

While at Dynamix, I met a man named Rhett Anderson and the rest is history.

Stay tuned for Chapter Two. There might be romance and stuff.


Now Starring @juliejulie, as the Startup Wife

So anyway, lately I’ve been thinking about writing a book about me, me, me, since I believe I’m interesting and my life is book-worthy, plus I’m hoping Julia Roberts would play me in the movie (wearing padding, of course) because back when my kids were little I started an art studio in my basement and painted old suitcases with puff paint, and!

Besides Julia Roberts purchasing a craft I made in my basement 9 years ago, I am also book-worthy because my husband and I founded a start up company a year and a half ago, and I’m a Startup Wife.

The company is called 401k Buddy. My husband made a web-based software tool to help people figure out asset allocation, and I found top notch advisors and a CEO to help us build the company and work for free. My title is “Convincer.”

401k Buddy is just as sexy as Julia Roberts, right?

Maybe not, but our story is. I mean, who wouldn’t like a feel-good, Oprah-Worthy story about two (married) lovers betting their entire future on helping their fellow citizens rebuild this great nation, one properly allocated 401k at a time? Even Ira Glass might want to hear about this one.

Except it doesn’t have a happy ending. Guess I’m not so convincing after all. Damn. I’ll have to fire myself. At least I won’t have to sign any non-existent checks to myself.

Alas, due to the, we can’t find anyone to give us enough funding to really get 401k Buddy going all the way, despite our great patent-pending technology and fabulous people. We used our own money for a long time, and we were close, oh-so-close, but no cigar, and now we’re broke.

So, what’s a Startup Wife to do? We’re going to start another company, of course.

Yes, we have another big idea that we’re working on, in our spare time when we’re not rewriting our resumes and begging our old bosses to take us back as “consultants” until we have enough cash in the checking account to buy enough food for the three children and two dogs who live with us. This idea is much cheaper, too, since we can do it on our own, and we won’t need a CEO to work for free, or a team of developers, or attorneys, or compliance officers for quite a while yet.

The plan is simple: as soon as we have some more rent money saved up, we will dive back into the entrepreneur’s crazy pool, at the deep end, and sink or swim. Again.

What is wrong with us, you ask? I’m not sure. Maybe you’ll find out when you read my book, and then you can tell me.

So, writing a funny book about being a Startup Wife is a great idea, don’t you think? People need humor, especially since their 401k’s And I can be funny, especially for a hefty advance from a smart publisher who appreciates my gifts. I’m serious.

And now, for all you publishers out there reading this, as part of my due diligence, I’ve made a list of pluses and minuses to consider regarding my new Startup Wife book adventure:

Plus: No competition. I can’t recall any hilarious, co-founder wives books, so there wouldn’t be much competition in this genre, right? If anyone sees a funny Startup Wife book, please let me know. I’d like to invite that author out for a drink (Dutch treat!)

Question: Why don’t we see any funny Startup books, Mr. Guy Kawasaki?

Answer:  (from me, Guy isn’t here, he’s probably hanging out with his own Startup Wife) Maybe it’s not so funny getting rejected by Venture Capitalists during the worst economic meltdown in the history of my generation, and it’s not so funny wondering if you’ve just bet your kids’ college education funds on the future sales of a 401k asset allocation tool for the masses when most of the masses don’t know what the phrase asset allocation actually means (although they should!)

I bet I could make it sound funny. 

Minus: depression hurts, my neck is killing me, I have insomnia, and my crappy self-employed insurance makes me co-pay for any Ambien or Zoloft I might like to request. Plus my doctor moved away, and who wants to go find a new doctor at a time like this just to get a prescription I probably won’t fill anyway? Not me. Plus, if I’m  awake at night worrying about my family’s future, I have way more time to write a book then if I’m just sleeping half my life away. I’m just saying.

Plus: I think insomnia should be listed under plus, not minus, for the reasons I just mentioned.

Plus: people might buy a book with 401k in the title, even though they don’t want to open their statement envelope, because they think they should, so maybe I could call the book “The 401k Startup Wife” or something super catchy.

Statement: 401k savings are still super important and if Americans run out of money, we’ll all end up in soup kitchens and I don’t think there will be enough soup. If there’s one thing I do NOT want to think about, it’s being hungry and having to fight off a homeless guy for a bowl of minestrone down at the soup kitchen.

I think I would win, for the record, since the homeless guy would not be expecting a chubby mommy talking into a high-end cell phone to be kicking him to the ground and screaming out crazy, startup vocabulary phrases like:

“We didn’t get our f***ing Seed Round even though the VC’s said they loved us 3 months ago, and said they’d give us Series A once we got a customer, which we did, by the way, but now there is nothing left in my brokerage account, which means I’m down to my woefully undervalued Intel DRIP which I to liquidate (have you SEEN Intel’s stock price lately, buddy?) so don’t you or anyone else dare talk to me about trading options to buy groceries, asshat! Just get the hell out of my way, I am HUNGRY!”

At least I don’t think they’d be expecting me in their soup line. But the homeless guy could very well be a former neighbor of mine whose house just went into foreclosure, or perhaps the VC himself, in which case, I might kick him anyway. Ladies first, after all.

[Of course I wouldn’t really kick a VC, I might need him later, since I’m a Serial Entrepreneur now. So, any former or future VC friends, no offense.]

My real question is this: do book publishers really have to see and entirely finished book before they accept you, or can I just write the first few chapters and submit? The thing is, I’m not sure how this story ends yet, since we’re in the middle of it, but something will be happening to our lives in the next few months, since we’ll run out of money shortly and, you know, I can sort of spin this story however the editors want it. And it will be hilarious, I’m sure.

Especially if they pay me a hefty advance.

Not much has changed since 1983

Not much has changed since 1983



p.s. if anyone wants to buy a kick-ass asset allocation tool, please email me at, since I’ll be keeping the email indefinitely.