I make most of my writing income from interactive fiction. (As soon as I say “writing income” out loud, my fellow authors want to know more.)
Most people who find me via my blog know me as a novelist, so I’ll pitch this entry as if you’re hearing about modern IF (interactive fiction) for the first time.
It’s a lot like those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books from the 80s, which would give readers a choice every few pages. Some ‘Goosebumps’ stories also let readers steer the story. The main difference is that almost all modern IF is released as a digital app. Not only is it outrageously popular (everyone loves an app), but the digital format gives it an amazing potential for more subtle, personal choices such as gender, sexuality, and even the main character’s name.
Almost all of my interactive fiction is listed under my name on the Interactive Fiction Database. That’s a great place to find reviews and ratings.
If you’re attempting to read every steampunk tale I’ve written (aka “Steam & Sorcery”, which includes the “Antipodean Queen” novel trilogy) in a logical order, there’s a reading guide here. Everything steampunk in this list is underlined.
Cover image provided by Michael Estrada, with permission.
After the Flag Fell is a nice gentle way to get into modern IF, mostly because it’s so old-school that you can literally print it out. It’s also short, and free. (I edited it a little after it won the Windhammer Contest, and tacked it onto the HEART OF BRASS novel.) You can read it online here. Be warned, though, that there are spoilers if you haven’t read the novel. It’s a fascinating tale based on the true history of the real-life Peter Lalor.
Escape From the Female Factory is even more user-friendly than “After the Flag Fell”, since it has no statistics or inventory at all. It is also a printable short story, since I wrote it especially to go with the SILVER AND STONE novel. I planned to convert it into Twine and enter it in the 2017 IF Comp, but I ran out of time. I may expand and digitalise it some day. There are spoilers if you haven’t read the novel. It’s a story that branches with every choice, and gives you many many many tragic endings—and two good ones. You play a suffragette in a women’s prison trying to stay alive, keep your friends alive, and gain your freedom.
Scarlet Sails is a Hosted Game (hosted by Choice of Games, but not under their premier label) that can be read on your browser or virtually any device. It placed seventh in the IF Comp 2015, and that version is free to read on your browser here. I wrote a lot more before publishing it here (click through to see all the different formats). It is a pirate game filled with violence, drinking, mutineers, and monsters. You can choose to embrace or defy the pirate lifestyle in a variety of ways.
Choices That Matter is a serial story app released by Tin Man Games. I came on board as co-writer on Arc 4 of “And The Sun Went Out” (with Alyce Potter and KG Tan; KG is also the project head and final line of editing), wrote “And Their Souls Were Eaten“, and I’m editing “And Their Heroes Were Lost” (written by Phill Berrie, who edited “Souls”), which will be completed in 2018. Google Play and iOS have different payment systems; on Google Play you can earn “choice tickets” by watching ads, and avoid payment altogether. But it takes a long time.
“And the Sun Went Out” is a near-future scifi in which the sun vanished for three hours and then reappeared. Scientists around the world are getting murdered, and it’s your job to try and find out whether the sun is back for good… or not so much. You are also educating Moti, an AI character that looks like a smart watch (and if you have an apple watch, you can choose to have Moti ‘speak’ to you through the watch).
“And Their Souls Were Eaten” is my longest and most popular story. It’s steampunk fantasy set in 1837 Europe. You’ve spent years living a solitary life, avoiding both your costly magical destiny and the horrifyingly intelligent albino bear that is stalking your family and has already killed your sister. But your quiet life is over, and it’s up to you what you do next.
“And Their Heroes Were Lost” is a scifi tale that I can’t say too much about. You wake up in what people call ‘Camp Amnesia”, unable to remember anything about yourself—even your own name. It soon becomes clear that there’s a reason you and the others are separated from the other prisoners.
Attack of the Clockwork Army is the first ChoiceScript story I ever wrote. I remain proud of the ‘fatal flaw’ innovation, and the epilogue. It’s steampunk fantasy set mainly in Australia. Your long-dead sister is alive and asking you to come to Australia, where tensions are running high between the British and the colonials. It soon becomes clear that you’re about to land right in the middle of the war for a nation… but who will you fight for?
Stuff and Nonsense was originally written as a live-action roleplaying game (similar to those ‘Murder Mystery Dinner’ board games). I converted it to Twine and added a bunch of pictures (and, be warned, some abrupt music at the end). It’s very silly, and is best enjoyed as a side trip away from the other steampunk tales. You’re part of a band of colonial rebels visiting an Australian Grand Exhibition, and Queen Victoria herself is set to visit.
Starship Adventures (here) and Lost in the Pages (here) are both games I wrote with other people. They’re both Hosted Games, so you can click through to read them on your browser or see the wide variety of app stores where they’re available.
“Starship Adventures” is a retro scifi space adventure complete with carnivorous plants, strategically-ripped uniforms, and (if you like) a floral unitard for you to do your heroics in.
“Lost in the Pages” is a book-portal story. You travel through a range of very different stories trying to rescue your eccentric Uncle Irwin from a malevolent force.
Home/Sick was edited and used in the collaborative game Lost in the Pages. I think there’s an early version of it via here, that was written in three hours for a contest.
Enchanted (here, and free I think) is a story told entirely through SMSes (including a soundtrack I rather like, and many images). Warning: Time delays are part of the story! I’ve lost track of how people are actually able to play it. Kik messenger is best, facebook seemed clumsy to me, and there may be other places. If you figure it out, let me know.
If you play it, you need to pick one romantic interest and stick with it, or the story won’t make sense. You’re a young adult in a small town in which there are vampires, witches, and were-creatures. They all get alone fine… sorta. Along the way you’ll find out what kind of creature you are, who loves you, and some of the many dangers lurking in your peaceful magical backwater.
Counting Spoons (free here) is a game about a day in the life of a mentally & physically ill person. It needs an edit but I’m scared to re-read it because of the topic (thinking about depression makes me depressed, which is why it’s short). It was originally written for the Noted festival 2016.
And now for something completely different.
Murder in the Mail is a murder mystery series told entirely through letters, objects, and art sent through the physical mail over the course of several weeks. The first story is A Bloody Birthday, which will have a Kickstarter Feb 17-end May 2018, and will be officially released on 25 August. The “pure” physical version will end 13 months after release, so get it while you can. The whole story costs just $40 including postage, and there’s more info here and a designated forum here.
Magic in the Mail is similar, but fantasy. There are two stories in development. The mini story “Emmeline’s Empire” will be available by June 2018 (but mail-out times will vary depending on jewellery supplies). “Feuding Fae” will have its first mail-out in June 2019.