Fan Art

Choices That Matter is a serial story hub app by Tin Man Games. KG Tan is the project head and editor. The stories are:

And The Sun Went Out written by KG Tan, Alyce Potter, and myself.

And Their Souls Were Eaten written by yours truly (edited by KG Tan and Phill Berrie).

And Their Heroes Were Lost written by Phill Berrie (edited by KG Tan and yours truly), which is still getting periodically updated at the moment (the ‘serial’ part of the app).

 

All of which is to say that there is a bunch of awesome fan art out there, and it’s high time I collected some here!

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This is Etienne Sole, one of the love interests in And The Sun Went Out. The artist is Frey. His website is here and his twitter is here.

 

There’s more gorgeous And The Sun Went Out art here (but I can’t figure out how to contact the artist).

 

If you know of more fan art out there please let me know. I’ll share anything G-rated (and I love knowing about it all, OF COURSE).

TrailerFest 2018

Today I decided that my 2-3 (I honestly don’t know) YouTube accounts needed tidying up, so I started a fresh new channel (because that simplifies things, right?) using the MagicintheMailStories@gmail.com email account.

As you may have guessed, I love doing my own book trailers. It’s so much fun!

The channel is here (don’t click on that; they’re all right here).

Then I slightly-edited ALL my existing book trailers to make sure they all link back to my store, and put them all on the magical new channel. And here, for your convenience… including the NEW trailer for IRON LIGHTS (with a sneaky cover reveal)… are all my book and story trailers thus far.

Antipodean Queen 1: Heart of Brass

This trailer took several days to make as I tried to capture the sense of the novel via visual images (a process that became tradition for all three Antipodean Queen trailers). It’s the first trailer I ever attempted, and my first go at iMovie too. I’d filmed the waterworks engine at the Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk & Victoriana Fair the previous October, and several of my friends like steampunk and/or historical garb (and dancing) so I found quite a lot of images that way, then filled the trailer out with some stock images, and some pics from Michael Estrada (who is very generous with his images; I found him on deviant art by accident some time ago).

There’s some adorably (I hope) bad photoshopping here, too: Combining a stock image of steampunk people with my own photo of a hot air balloon; the top hat on this trailer’s version of Matilda; the clumsy erasure of a modern background.

I have my own ideas about which people in this trailer represent which characters. The couple in the thumbnail are now married so they fit Matilda and Patrick rather well. In fact I usually run into them at the Goulburn Fair.

I remain pathetically grateful to FLAP! for letting me use three of their songs (one per trailer). I’ve seen them live twice (first in Melbourne, then Canberra) and I hope their component parts are still making music. This song is a true story about a convict’s attempted escape from a Tasmanian prison. The second is also a true story… this time about the time the lead singer fell off a cliff and broke both her legs!

Antipodean Queen 2: Silver and Stone

I was delighted to discover that the model Irina Braga (who features on the covers) had done three different steampunk photo shoots. The image below is one that hasn’t been altered. I actually stumbled across her husband on one of the facebook steampunk communities I’m part of, and he bought a copy of the first book.

This trailer benefited from the advance knowledge that it would exist; I deliberately collected images over time. One might argue that my daughter is the star here, and I am absolutely fine with that.

I’d noticed at my first book launch that it’s worth taking a moment to explain what steampunk is before carrying on. And that it’s fun to mix videos with still images (although stock video costs a LOT).

Yes, the first image after the opening train is indeed me, looking rather younger and fitter than I do these days. But I still have that corset 🙂

Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights

This trailer didn’t cost a cent. Almost every picture (and all three videos) were taken at—again—the Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk & Victoriana Fair. In fact the lady with the wings (Leanne, I think) had a not inconsiderable influence on the plot.

Eagle-eyed viewers may notice that the British flag-vested gentleman is the very same man that I thought of as ‘Patrick’ in the trailer for Heart of Brass, and that there are at least three versions of Emmeline in the one trailer (the woman with the clockwork handle in her back is author and model Tara Moss, who is a simply fantastic human being).

I was careful to include both my children this time. TJ is the boy in the brown aviator hat; Louisette is the tiara-wearing pirate (apparently “more treacherous than any sea” although she certainly doesn’t look it).

I LOVE the image of the three books side by side, and went back to add it to trailers #1 and #2.

The pictures of the lighthouse and the sea were all taken by me at the Lonsdale Lighthouse. ‘Miss Venture’ is a real historical image that I based the character on.

IRON LIGHTS will be launched on Sunday 26th August 2018 2:15-2:45pm at Kings’ Hall (Old Parliament House) as part of the Canberra Writers’ Festival.

Heest Trilogy 1: The Monster Apprentice (set in Rahana)

I wanted this trailer to feel quite different, so I hired some actor friends and told a story (of sorts) through the videos & music (this was a very expensive trailer). When I had all the internal illustrations, I added several of Tash Turgoose’s pics. I’m very pleased with the result.

Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday

The fundamental appeal—and difficulty—of the “Murder in the Mail” story system is that it has to be explained to every single reader. For that reason, I tried to be as clear as possible. I filmed relatives of mine posting and retrieving A4 envelopes from mailboxes, and ultimately only used the “recipient” footage (although I like it a lot).

Louisette did some very matter-of-fact acting which I wanted to include but the “Murder in the Mail” artists gently pointed out that having a child prominently featured was rather confusing for a murder mystery story.

For some reason Adobe gave me several free stock images at just the right moment, so I used that plus some of the art that I had permission to use publicly. I paid for the music.

This trailer was very useful for the Kickstarter campaign, as it’s well above the usual Kickstarter video standards. This is what my trailers look like when I’m trying to be closer to the ‘professional’ end of the ‘professional to quirky’ scale.

Magic in the Mail story series (Emmeline’s Empire and Feuding Fae)

This trailer took perhaps half an hour, and cost nothing! The song is the same song that’s included with the Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire story, and I used 100% art images rather than stock images. I copied and pasted the Murder in the Mail trailer into a new file, and then simply changed it from there, being careful to echo the beats of the original without making the two trailers identical.

And since Magic in the Mail is more child-friendly than Murder in the Mail I could use Louisette’s face in this one. Winner.

 

Do I have any advice for people making their own trailers?

Hmmm. Try to keep it under a minute, with striking images and emotions that give a sense of the book rather than necessarily focusing on plot or characters.

Have an EPIC cover.

Keep in mind that you can get a pretty decent book trailer for $5 or so. 😛

Magic in the Mail

The (first?) “Murder in the Mail” Kickstarter was successful, raising thousands of dollars. You can read more about that story here.

As you can probably guess from the title, this led to further shenanigans.

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There are currently TWO “Magic in the Mail” stories in development:

Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae

This is a tale of two missing magical creatures; a phoenix and a water dragon.

Phoenixes and dragons hate one another, so foul play seems likely. Their concerned parents team up with some magic-sensitive mortals to follow the missing “children” and perhaps save their lives. The missing ones have left a trail of art behind them (because an encounter with a magical creature inspires wonderful art).

It is posted in three parcels, and includes artistic objects which you’re going to love!

It is also 100% G-rated.

$50 plus postage (or $40 if you buy the boxed set in person at a conference/fair) through the store right here.

The first mail-out will be June **2019** but you can make preorders now.

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This beautiful anuragnathus (yes it’s a real dinosaur) by Alan Lam is part of the story—and yes, the Chinese character is both a clue and a red herring.

What does a dinosaur have to do with a story of magical runaways?

You’ll have to buy the story to find out.

Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire (mini story)

This is a steampunk fantasy tale set in the same world of magical metals as all my other steampunk, including my novels (in fact it takes place at the same time as part of Iron Lights and the game Attack of the Clockwork Army).

A Perfectly Ordinary (she says) shop-keeper named Xiong joins a fledgling rebellion headed up by the famous Emmeline Muchamore. It’s a tale of secrets, hope, aeronauts, lighthouses, an alternate reality Charles Dickens, and fruit ices for all.

$30 plus postage (in a single pack because I’m trying to keep it affordable) from my store here. Available now!

The first mail-out is. . . within 6 months of the first order. Probably more or less instantly. This story is a much smaller operation than the others. I’ll be feeling my way as I go.

A stripped-down version will be included with my third steampunk fantasy novel (available in August 2018), with just two black and white pieces of art included. The full version has a build-your-own hot air balloon, handmade jewellery and a steampunk song by the Littmus Steampunk Band!

Here’s one of the pieces of art. This is a print of an oil painting by Graham Gercken, who takes special orders.

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Since people tend to feel strongly about the genres of both crime and fantasy, “Magic in the Mail” has its own forum, here.

 

All my stories are available through my store here.

Murderous Kickstarter!

The Kickstarter for the first Murder in the Mail story is now live. It’s packed with unique rewards. Most are available anywhere in the world.

Murder in the Mail tells stories through letters, objects, and artworks mailed to the reader over several weeks.

The first story is A Bloody Birthday.

Naomi, your cousin, is killed at her own birthday party. One of the guests is the killer, and you have asked them all to write to you and send artworks to help you figure out who could have done such a thing.

Every letter, object, and piece of (quality-printed A4 size) art holds at least one clue.

There is a forum for readers to talk to each other at murderinthemail.boards.net.

I am the curator as well as writing one of the characters. There are twelve writers/artists altogether.

Murder for Fun and Profit

The Kickstarter for “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” was fully funded, and the story will be officially launched (as part of an art exhibition) in August 2018.

It is available for purchase in its “full” format until September 2019 right here, after which it will be available as a visual novel published by Publisher Obscura.

The full list of contributors is here, with pics (and book covers of the writers).

Here’s the trailer:

 

Here’s the same (nearly) trailer, but with me yabbering at the end. This is the trailer we used for the Kickstarter (before the store was set up).

Murder in the Mail is a story told through letters, objects, and artworks physically posted to the reader over the course of eight weeks.

The reader is a character in the story, invited to guess the identity of the killer each week. The Murder in the Mail forums are a place where readers can compare clues and insights, helping (or hampering) one another. Everything, including the art, contains clues to be unravelled.

The first story in the series is A Bloody Birthday.

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(Like the logo? It’s by Publisher Obscura author Annabelle Lee.)

A group of art students gather at a birthday party where the guest of honour is murdered. One of them is the killer.

You ask the group of friends to write letters to you, talking openly about what happened, and sharing art works they’ve done in the period of time before, during, and after the party.

People say artists show their soul through their art. . . now it’s up to you to discover the darkness inside someone you trusted.

 

There are eight beautiful pieces of art included with this story, all made by Australian artists (almost all of whom I scouted out personally here in Canberra). Every character is written by a different published Odyssey Books author (including Tash Turgoose from the Publisher Obscura imprint). The objects in the story are chosen to involve all the senses, and the art was chosen to be (a) Beautiful (b) Varied in style and medium (c) Packed full of clues.

For example, this picture has five clues in it.

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That beautifully intricate piece is by the artist Shauna O’Meara.

(Fun fact: This is not the final version of the pic. Can you spot the difference between this and the “real” one sent to readers?)

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During the Kickstarter period, there were a range of unique items for people to purchase, such as premium versions of the story or custom-made art by the featured artists.

There will be a very special launch on 25 August here in Canberra, and an exhibition at the Front Cafe Gallery in Lyneham (within sight of Tillies).

If you want to know more, you can email MurderintheMailStories@gmail.com or visit the official forum at MurderintheMail.boards.net.

You can buy it through my store here.

Here is another one of the artworks that will be in the story:

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It’s by Adam Lee.

Eight weeks is a long time to worry which one of your friends is a killer (even when the friends are fictional), and there are also some Easter Eggs and clues that are quite obscure. So go ahead and lurk and/or join the forum here. There’s lots of space to talk about other art and other types of stories. If you are an Australian or New Zealand resident and an artist, please share your style and details there. I will be actively scouting the forum for future stories.

I’ll be going to various conferences this year, and the first cab off the rank is Canberra’s biggest gaming conference, CanCon, in C Pavilion near the vast Games Library.

Feel free to come and chat, buy my books (or Annabelle Lee’s books), playtest some of my interactive fiction, and perhaps order a copy of Murder in the Mail for yourself or someone who would kill for it.

Oh, and there’s a facebook page here where at least one of our early reviewers will be sharing her first impressions.

Since the Kickstarter, I’ve been selling special box sets at all the conferences/fairs/etc that I attend, ie:

Sydney Supanova (June) in the Artist Alley stall “Publisher Obscura”
GammaCon Canberra (August) in Artist Alley
Canberra Launch (probably as part of the Canberra Writers’ Festival) August
Conflux Canberra (September-October)
Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk and Victoriana Fair (October)

There will be limited quantities of the packaged version, so email me in advance if you’d like to reserve one.

YES there are two “Magic in the Mail” stories in development right now! You can see more at the Magic Forum, and/or check out the whole store here.

My 2017: No wonder I need a lie down

What an epic year. I spent over 15 years of my life writing novels that nobody would touch, and now that it’s started to rain it’s pouring (which is a wonderful thing).

I spent vast amounts of time on the Tin Man Games “Choices That Matter” app (Google Play and iOS). It’s a story hub for serial interactive tales and it has over a million downloads of the free sample sections. The three stories so far are:

“And The Sun Went Out”

A near-future scifi which I co-wrote with KG Tan and Alyce Potter. It had 60 updates over 15 months, and clocked in at just over 600,000 words (longer than “War and Peace”). Each read-through is about 150,000 words.

“And Their Souls Were Eaten”

I wrote all of this one (edited by Phill Berrie and KG Tan), set in the same steampunk universe as my Antipodean Queen novels, but with a completely distinct magical problem (and taking place in Europe). The finished tale is 400,000 words long, and after that I had a nice lie down.

“And Their Heroes Were Lost”

Phill Berrie is writing, and KG and I are editing (oh how the tables are turned, hey Phill?) This is also sci-fi, but I don’t want to give away any more than that! Phill is still working on this story, and his fans are clamouring for each new update.

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I also wrote, edited, and published the novel “Antipodean Queen 2: Silver and Stone“, and will be finishing that trilogy in 2018 with “Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights” (that’s right: the title has changed since Book 2 was published).

AND my actually-rather-good pirate fantasy trilogy for kids (like Narnia, but with pirates) that I wrote many years ago has been accepted for publication and shall begin release with a free pirate mini-ball (live music, prizes, costumes, and everything!!) on Saturday February 17th.

“The Monster Apprentice” is the first book. And it’ll be illustrated, too! Plus (shh don’t tell) one of my very very very favourite Aussie authors is going to read it and give me a cover quote!

And I have three other very exciting projects coming out in 2018! One I can’t talk about yet, one will be published on the premium label at Choice of Games (they pay VERY well for books that make the premium grade), and one is called “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” and is a murder mystery told entirely through postcards, letters, objects, and art. That link is to the shiny new forum where readers will be able to talk to one another about who they think is the killer, and how much they love all the art I chose!

2017 was a great year for my writing, and 2018 is going to be even better.

I is happy.

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Things are looking up.

List of all my Interactive Fiction

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.

[If you’re looking for Murder in the Mail or Magic in the Mail, click here or scroll down the the end of this entry for info. Or just buy them from my store.]

I’m collecting fan art here.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

More info here, and the magic forum is here.

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Steampunk Stories

I have amused myself for some years by writing a number of stories and novels in a wide range of utterly different formats. Presumably this is due to an unconscious desire to confuse and frustrate the largest possible number of my own readers.

Now that the book trilogy is finished (launch day is 26 August 2018 for Iron Lights) I have put together a full STEAM & SORCERY pack that gives you all the physical stories together—the three books and the full version of Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire (which includes jewellery, art, and a song). You can buy the full STEAM & SORCERY pack here for just $80.

ALL my steampunk takes place in the “Steampunk & Sorcery” universe, including the “Antipodean Queen” novel trilogy.

In an effort to give completionists a fair go, this blog entry will always display the full list of all my steampunk tales, where to get them, and whatever else you may need.

Each story is designed to stand on its own without spoilers, but the first Antipodean Queen novel, HEART OF BRASS, was written first.

In reading order:

  1. Choices That Matter: And Their Souls Were Eaten. An interactive story set in 1837 Europe, originally released as a serial story through the Tin Man Games company’s Choices That Matter app. It is now complete, and will be released on Steam at some point (probably 2019). I like to pretend the player character is Emmeline’s relative, even though the story has a completely unique premise and plot. It is available as an app for iOs or Google Play. The beginning is free.
  2. Antipodean Queen 1: Heart of Brass. A young adult steampunk novel set mainly in 1854 Australia. Emmeline Muchamore’s origin story. You can buy physical copies through Odyssey Books, who will post it anywhere in the world. You can also order it through any bookshop (the ISBN will help you; it’s 978-1-922200-58-7). You can also buy either print or digital copies from Amazon US, Amazon Australia, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Abe Books, The Book Depository, etc. You can read the blurb and beginning here.
  3. After the Flag Fell. A printable interactive story that won the 2015 Windhammer Prize. That version is free here, and an updated version is included with all editions of Heart of Brass. It is set immediately after the events of Heart of Brass.
  4. Antipodean Queen 2: Silver and Stone. The second book of the novel trilogy. Like the first book, it’s available on Amazon US, Kobo, Odyssey. The paperback ISBN is 978-1-925652-20-8. The blurb and beginning are here.
  5. Escape From the Female Factory is a printable short story that happens at the same time as events in Silver and Stone. It should be read after the novel, and is only available as a special feature with the novel.
  6. Antipodean Queen 3: Iron Lights. The third novel of the trilogy will be released in 2018. It takes place at the same time as “Stuff and Nonsense”, “Attack of the Clockwork Army”, and “Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s Empire”. I recommend reading the novel first.
  7. Stuff and Nonsense is a live-action role-playing game designed for beginners (possibly children). It’s a little like those ‘Murder Mystery’ board games, but with actual (silly) games thrown in. The printable version is available by emailing me at fellissimo@hotmail.com with the subject line STUFF AND NONSENSE. I converted it into a Twine game (with images), which is quite different to the original story, and which you can play for free here. It has some very minor spoilers if you read it before the books. Big spoilers if you read it before the role-playing version. THIS STORY TAKES PLACE AT THE SAME TIME AS ANTIPODEAN QUEEN 3: IRON LIGHTS. Hopefully that’s fun for people who want to explore the world of the novels a bit more. You won’t know the “canon” version of the story without reading the novel, so you can feel free to decide which ending you like the best. Also, a particular character is definitely not there in the novel. The novel is canon, but the game is just not as fun without [redacted].
  8. Attack of the Clockwork Army. An interactive story that takes place in the 1860s, mainly in Australia. It allows you to play as one of Emmeline’s siblings if you wish (which will cause spoilers if you haven’t read the novels) or as an original character in a slightly different and spoiler-free reality. Available here as an app for any device, or it can be read on your browser. It uses the ChoiceScript tool. THIS STORY TAKES PLACE AT THE SAME TIME AS ANTIPODEAN QUEEN 3: IRON LIGHTS. Hopefully that’s fun for people who want to explore the world of the novels a bit more. You won’t know the “canon” version of the story without reading the novel, so you can feel free to decide which ending you like the best.
  9. Magic in the Mail: Emmeline’s EmpireThis is a short story told DURING THE EVENTS OF ANTIPODEAN QUEEN 3: IRON LIGHTS, in which a side character is the main character. Hopefully that’s fun for people who want to explore the world of the novels a bit more. It also stands alone as a steampunk story. “Magic in the Mail” (and “Murder in the Mail”) are two storytelling formats invented by yours truly. The “classic” version is physically posted to the reader. The parcel contains letters, objects, and artworks that together tell an immersive story that asks the reader to participate (in this case, by building a convertible flying device). This one is special because it’s cheaper ($25 for Australian residents instead of $40; probably $40 for everyone else, including postage of the story). It also includes a song by the Littmus Steampunk Band and a piece of handmade steampunk jewellery made by Liesel Turnbull.  A stripped-down version will be included as a bonus with the Iron Lights novel. It will include a limited number of 2D black-and-white artworks only. You can buy the full version for $30 here.

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The simplest way to know when a new story is coming out is to join my mailing list by writing an email to fellissimo@hotmail.com with MAILING LIST in the subject line. I don’t share emails, and I won’t spam you. Usually the mailing list gets about one update a month with major news only (new releases, conference appearances).

PS Here‘s a great article on the whole field of steampunk novels (those not written by yours truly), including links to many many reviews. It’s highly out of date, but the books are still good!

PPS The full STEAM & SORCERY pack is here. There’s a special limited edition pack here for Google Play devices that includes all the physical books PLUS codes for the digital tales.

Conflux 13: Day 3 (& ChoiceScript)

Today, Sunday, was my Big Day. Not only did I have a Book Launch at 2pm…

Silver and Stone cover

…but I also ran a three-hour interactive fiction workshop in the morning.

Which was seriously awesome. (So was the Book Launch. If you haven’t seen the trailer, it’s here.)

The workshop was very biased, naturally, since it is all about my own notions regarding interactive fiction. This article, which I wrote last year, is an excellent summary of the IF scene (as I see it, having stumbled across it very recently).

This article focuses on the different elements of writing interactive novels as opposed to regular novels.

Today’s workshop was brimming with people who’d already written novels, which was quite different to last year. Last year we focused on Twine, the free tool that makes a useful map as you write and is the most user-friendly tool ever. This year we focused on ChoiceScript, which is a lovely elegant engine, also designed for non-programmers, made by Choice of Games. It’s easier to write longer works with ChoiceScript, because it’s set up for that (you can write longer pieces on Twine, but it’s trickier to do anything clever). More on that in a bit. FYI I’m not associated or affiliated with Choice of Games in any way.

I believe I promised a pic of yesterday’s outfit. Here it is (next to an ad for the excellent “Sentinels of Eden” series which I also mentioned yesterday).

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I’ve spent the rest of the day in Conflux mode… that is, hanging around talking to interesting people. My love for the venue is only growing with greater familiarity. Apart from anything else, they DO have special free conference wifi. And SO many power points, just everywhere *swoon*. The staff continue to be absolutely excellent. The food is pretty good but expensive and the menu is fairly limited. Huge portions.

A lot of local people are unhappy Conflux is at the airport, which isn’t great for most Canberrans (especially those who rely on buses—the special shuttle to or from Civic has been helpful). Next year’s venue is TBA. Parking underneath the hotel costs $6 for up to two hours but over $20 for a full day. For people that validated their ticket at reception, a whole day costs $14. There was plenty of space.

People like me (ie with a disability card) can park in a funny little 2-hour carpark that’s on the right as you drive around the hotel on your way to the front door. There are no designated disabled spots but with a card you can use public 2-hour parking for a full day for free. So the key to Conflux parking is to have a disability card but still be able to drive. For me, it was a breeze, and much much nicer than anywhere in civic.

And it’s pretty.

There’s a moment at sunset when everyone in the foyer suddenly has a golden halo. When the moment passes, the brass lamps all come on (not these ones; other ones). It’s quite lovely.

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The banquet was suitably glorious, and a very fine evening. Each item on the menu was linked to fairy tales. I ate a Goose’s Golden Egg for dessert (filled with panna cotta).

 

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There’s a Trivia Night tonight, but I shall be going home to sleep.

Thus endeth today’s Conflux Report.

I promised to write out a few very useful bits of code for those who are learning ChoiceScript. This is reinventing the wheel to a large extent, since the official ChoiceScript guides, including a free link to download it, are excellent.

So is the wiki, which has had many years to be refined and expanded. The Twine documents are improving, but they’re newer and trickier, and there are significant changes from Twine1 to Twine2.

When you download ChoiceScript, it has some very basic intro scenes, choices, and statistics set up for you. When you want to start writing, you can just delete a bit and begin.

HOW TO WRITE A CHOICE:

To “play” the example game, follow this path (it works on PC or Mac):

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 4.36.15 PM

 

It works best with Firefox, but most browsers are fine (other than, oddly, Google Chrome).

It’s fairly ordinary-looking visually, but it is immediately obvious how to progress the story (Click on a choice, then click on ‘Next’). Your text will be different to this image, because I’ve long since replaced the example with my own.

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To see the code behind the story, follow this path (using a text editing program—I recommend Notepad++ for PC and Sublime for Macs):

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 4.36.53 PM

 

The right-hand column above shows the startup file for the story I’m currently writing (so nobody look, okay?)

Don’t panic when you see a bunch of words and symbols. It will be okay.

NB: Each chapter of your book will be in a separate text file. You can name them whatever you like.

You can switch between the browser and the text file to see how the text file alters the story that you’re reading in the browser. The best thing to do is to just put your own words in, and you’ll be able to see them immediately fit the playable ChoiceScript format.

So if you write exactly this (at the END of the startup file, replacing the kingdom bit):

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 5.11.42 PM

Then you go back to the index.html file, it will look like:

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The * and # symbols are vital, and so is the spacing at the beginning of your lines. You can use either tab or spacebar to indent what needs indenting, but you have to pick one and stick to it or the game will break. Those three keys are the heart of your writing from now on.

If the reader picks “I choose option one” above, the line of text will appear, saying, “You chose option one.” Your story works—but so far you haven’t told the program what to do next (thus, the game will break immediately after that line).

Some structural info:

Many stories have a “branch and bottleneck” structure. Choices (often a whole series of nested choices) branch off in different directions, then different directions again… and then there’a a point at which they all come together, and then the choices branch out again from there. Here’s a diagram example using twine:

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As a writer, the hard part isn’t branching your story; it’s bringing things back to bottlenecks (so you don’t end up with literally millions of utterly different stories). One handy way is with time, eg:

“The sun is setting. Enough mucking around. It’s time to…”

“Mucking around” is non-specific enough to cover all the possible adventures the character might just have experienced. Or you can leave out that sentence altogether.

Back to your basic ChoiceScript thing:

A lot of choices within a story bottleneck immediately, which is written as:

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You can name your label whatever you like. Use lower case, avoid special characters, and remember each label must be different.

This is a simple choice structure that works. You don’t actually require the “goto” and “label” stuff unless you’re nesting choices, so a lot of the time it’s even simpler.

Whatever you write after “*label bottleneck” will be seen by all the readers, no matter what choice they made beforehand.

Anything that’s on a line marked with an * will not be seen by the reader.

If you want, you can write an entire story like this. The lines of unique text above (“You chose option one/two/three.”) are only seen by the readers that chose that option. Those lines can be expanded into literally any length, and can have other nested choices inside. ChoiceScript authors don’t have a wall diagram with string going everywhere; they have a ludicrous number of indentations as they write choices within choices within choices.

But you can also just bottleneck after each choice. That’s what smart authors do (for most of the choices, but not all of them—after all, you want your reader to have a unique experience). That’s how authors stay sane.

But how to make the choices matter in a deeper way?

[Tired? Breandead? Stop here and write some scenes. Come back later. This is where I stopped for a day when I was learning ChoiceScript.]

Choices have long-term consequences because of stats. Stats don’t create work; they are a brilliant and cumulative way of making hundreds of choices matter without writing a million-page book.

The two main types of statistics are personality based and skill based. So as your player makes their choices and has their adventures, you’re also noting what kind of character they are creating (think of them as a co-writer who’s in charge of the main character’s personality), as well as building their skill set (for later challenges that can be won or lost).

In ChoiceScript, you make your own unique statistics. The more unique the better!

One of the most distinctive & fun things about the ChoiceScript tool is that it often uses opposed statistics—so for example, you might have ‘Tactfulness’ versus ‘Straight Talker’. If a player chooses to be tactful, their tactfulness stat will go up and their ‘straight talker’ stat will go down.

HOW TO DO STATS:

First, go into the startup file. After the *scene_list but before the story begins, write this:

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 6.54.04 PM

You can set any number of (single, lowercase) words as beginning stats.

Your Tactfulness versus Straight Talker opposed statistic will all be expressed (code-wise) as + or – tactfulness.

Your name stat will be a one-off choice (and the players can enter their own; instructions here).

Your strength starts at 0. It will grow with strength-based choices, and it will be tested at later choices.

The “show stats” button on the browser version of the story (that the players see) appears automatically.

To make the stats page look good, go into the choicescript_stats file (which you already have in the same “scenes” folder as the “startup” file), and write this:

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It will look like this to the player:

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The numerical values will change as the player makes choices.

The ! makes sure that a word is capitalised (it’s also useful for pronouns—which we’ll talk about next—when they’re at the beginning of a sentence).

Here’s your first-choice example, with stats added:

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 7.01.27 PM

Now players who choose Option One have Tactfulness 60% (and Straight Talking 40%).

Players who choose Option Two have Straight Talking 60% (and Tactfulness 40%).

Behind the scenes, opposed stats are really just recording one stat going up or down, but they’re displayed with a red/blue bar for the player.

If the player chose Option Three, then “Bob” will appear after “Name:” in the player’s stat screen, AND their strength will be 5.

In the line “*set strength %+5” the % symbol is the key to avoiding maths. I have your attention now, don’t I? Long story short, if you use “%+” and “%-” for your stats, you will never get under 0% or over 100%. Is good.

Congratulations! You’ve written a functional choice that doesn’t break the game and that makes a difference to your statistics.

HOW TO DO GENDER:

In your startup file, write:

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Then have a choice (early on) like this:

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 8.09.44 PM

As you may have noticed above, you can put the stats and the text in any order. Since the player doesn’t see the stats (until they click on the button to see the stat page), it doesn’t make a difference. But consistency is a good idea.

Once you’ve done that, you can use pronouns, like so:

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 8.09.54 PM

This text will appear normal to the player, but will have the right pronouns, eg:


 

You hear two people talking about you.

“What do you think of them, really?”

“They’s okay I suppose.”

“Really? I hate their dog.”


 

There are two important things to note here. (Okay, three.)

-You can write an entire novel without player-character (PC) pronouns if you’re determined (as I’ve done for “Choices That Matter” stories on iOS and Google Play via Tin Man Games).

-‘They’ is grammatically distinct. You probably noticed the painfully incorrect “They’s okay” above. If you include they/them pronouns, you will need to be very careful to avoid a similar grammar fail. But it’s worth it. The IF (Interactive Fiction) community works hard to be inclusive, especially with gender and sexuality.

-Using he/his/him as your “base stat” in the startup file works well because the three forms are distinct (unlike for she/her/her).

Erm, it’s just occurring to me that it might work better to use they/their/them as your base. I’m not smart enough to check the idea is sound without writing a novel to check, but I THINK it’ll help a bunch with both Point #3 and the Point #2.

 

WELL that was a long blog entry. Are you still here, dear reader? I’m off to eat dinner and have a lie down.

PS Guess what! It’s October! Who knew?

More Conflux tomorrow!

PS Two more super-useful sites for when you’ve finished that brilliant interactive fiction game.

Dashingdon hosts ChoiceScript games, and Philime.la hosts Twine games. Both are free, and both allow you to show your game to a select few (editors) before uploading/publishing a finished version.

Playing Fast and Loose with History

It’s possible you’ve heard that after ten glorious months, “And Their Souls Were Eaten” is just about to have its final release posted. It’s an interactive serial story that ran for ten months with (roughly) weekly updates.

The total word count is around 370,000 (you get about a quarter of that per read-through) so I’m feeling QUITE pleased with myself right about now. (I’m also apologising to my kids quite a bit and promising that when I’ve finished my next two deadlines it’ll all calm down quite a bit.)

Steampunk never tries to be accurate or even plausible historical writing, although a good steampunk writer will have a solid reason for every change they make (for instance, this story has airships because airships are awesome).

While writing “Souls” I amused myself by adding a bunch of real historical people into the story. For the more famous ones, I disguised them by using their lesser-known names for a while. I happily shifted people around the world for my personal amusement, and fudged their ages a fair bit.

There are therefore very mild spoilers for these characters. Feel free to go and read the entire story first. And don’t think they’re safe from death just because they’re real people. At least two are 100% doomed no matter what. The only question is… which two? You’d have to PM or email me to find out (fellissimo@hotmail.com). Or just read the story a bunch of times, and see who doesn’t survive.

 

 

 

SPOILER SPACE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In (VERY roughly) chronological order:

*Charles Dickens. Because how could I not include the most famous writer of serial stories?

*Genevieve Deringer (yes with one ‘r’) is a fictional member of the real Deringer family (who invented Derringer rifles).

*Thomas Molyneaux was a British Heavyweight boxer (of African descent) and extremely famous and successful. I don’t think I ever named him, but I had Nox rescue him from a soulless man in an isolated forest encounter (and then had far too many characters, so it remained a random encounter).

*The exiled King Charles X of France (yes, he was in Austria for a while, and died of cholera).

*Fairy Fay is fictional, but her name was taken from a woman who may or may not have been killed by Jack the Ripper. (This is also why she calls a character “Jack” at the end. The idea is that “Jack” would have become Jack the Ripper.)

*Ada Lovelace (and the Earl of Lovelace). Because steampunk. She really did try and invent a flying machine as a teenager (and wrote a book about it) and had her first child in 1836.

*Isabella Bird. Was chronically ill and told to travel “for her health”. She was a deeply Christian woman and a suffragette. After attempting to ride side-saddle up a volcano, she rode horses “like a man” forever after.

*Madame Cama. Like Isabella Bird, she was a suffragette (although her main focus was independence for India) who had at least one marriage and seemed to do rather better when it was over. Sadly, she and Isabella never actually met.

*Harriet Tubman, our third suffragette, was certainly not travelling Europe in 1836, not least because she was about 14 at the time. But one of her many awesomenesses was being a suffragette, so I borrowed her—in part to acknowledge all my North American readers (who had to suffer through British English this story, poor dears).

In fact, Michael Bay and I had a chat just last week over tea and cocaine and he apologised for stealing my idea that every work of historical fiction must include Harriet Tubman. (We’re cool now, although he still says the “Choices That Matter” app should be teal and orange instead of black and white.)

*Alexandre Dumas. When I was a teenager one of my best friends lived on “Dumas” street, and although we were aware of the writer we were rather more amused by alternate pronunciations of his name. The more I research the Victorian Era, the more I realise it wasn’t nearly as white-white-white as it is often portrayed. I only discovered last year that Dumas was a black man.

*Adah Isaacs Menken. This fascinating Creole actress and poet was one of Dumas’s many mistresses.

*Selika Lavevski was a very well-known and skilled equestrian circus performer, and drop-dead gorgeous to boot. Yep, I bet you thought I made all that up. I didn’t.

That studio photo was taken from here.

*Gustave Eiffel, long before the Eiffel tower was built.

*The French Fencers: Joseph Bologne and Chevalier d’Eon really were famous late-1700s fencers; an African man and a person who switched genders at least once. They’re only in one very minor (but badass) scene. Yes, Joseph was also a virtuoso violinist!

*Coenraad Van Houten and his father, who were real Dutch chocolate innovators (and who were smart enough to guard their secrets).

*Captain Ching Shih was a real and very successful Chinese pirate with an enormous fleet.

*Princess/Queen Victoria, who took the throne just after her eighteenth birthday in 1836. She was a fan of Charles Dickens.

I’ve probably forgotten some people, so let me know if you think you noticed someone!

I absolutely recommend googling all of these complicated, successful, diverse and talented people. They are well worth getting to know.

News about “Choices That Matter” story app.

Eep, I really haven’t written for a while.

In my defence, I am in a whirlwind of writing as I finish “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”, write the sequel to “Heart of Brass” (it’ll be a trilogy by the end of next year), and research and write [redacted] for [redacted], which is terribly exciting.

First things first, the Tin Man Games story app formerly known as “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” (after the first story, which I also co-wrote) is now known as “Choices That Matter”. It’s still on iOS and Google Play, and the finished tales will eventually show up on Steam.

So, I co-wrote the first story, “And The Sun Went Out” (from arc 4 onwards)

I wrote the second story, “And Their Souls Were Eaten”

I shall be editing the third story, “And Their Heroes Were Lost”.

All in all, KG Tan and I have made sure our fingerprints are all over all three stories. (For those not in the know, KG Tan is the project head of both “Choices That Matter” and “Miss Fisher” and he wrote rather a lot of “And The Sun Went Out”. He’s the last line of defence when it comes to editing, especially coding errors, and he is a spectacularly gifted person as well as a genuine friend.)

Phill Berrie was the first-line editor for “And Their Souls Were Eaten” and he is the writer of “And Their Heroes Were Lost” (which is seriously excellent!)

 

So let’s talk “And Their Souls Were Eaten”, since it’s my big beautiful baby. It had forty updates over 10 months, and the final update will come out within days. The final word count is around 377,000 (which is impressive until you compare it to the 15-month “And The Sun Went Out”, which came in just over 600,000 words).

YES in case you were wondering, it is connected to my other steampunk stories (they’re all connected). It takes place in 1836 Europe, well before any of the other stories, and the central problem of the story is different to all the rest.

Whenever I write interactive steampunk, I decide one one version of the story that is the “canon” version—the least contradictory version. When it comes to “And Their Souls Were Eaten” the canon version is as follows:

 

SPOILER SPACE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. The character is male (or appears to be), and after eating the soul of Charles Dickens they ultimately “become” the Charles Dickens that we know from “real” history (minus the horrible behaviour toward women, because I want to like him and it’s my story dammit). He writes all the Dickens stories just as they exist in our real world. The character might just show up in the novels (as “Charles Dickens”). He certainly shows up in “Stuff and Nonsense”.
  2. The soulless problem is 100% dealt with and although a few people continue to build anti-soulless towers and to keep an eye out in case any soulless escaped, by the time Emmeline Muchamore (hero of the novels) is causing trouble it’s rare to hear “soulless” or “Great Ones” even mentioned. In fact, they don’t come up in the novels at all (conveniently for those who read the novels but not “And Their Souls Were Eaten”.
  3. Activated gold is discovered during “And Their Souls Were Eaten”, and a few other magical metals are discovered in the 1840s, before the novels begin in 1853.

Procrastination Technique #452: Reviews

I’ve written about reviews before, and I’m always fascinated, whether the review is positive or. . . not so much.

The Tin Man Games app “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” (including the second story, my steampunk fantasy, “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”) has just under a hundred reviews (mostly just stars) on itunes and has just passed 600 reviews on Android.

Android apps have a cool feature where they say how many people have installed an app, and this app, our app, has been installed over 50,000 times! It boggles my mind that so many people are reading words that I write, and it makes me evil laugh when I read the desperate pleas of addicted readers hanging out for their weekly story fix:

Mario Zalout wrote:

Love it It’s hard for me to find games like this. I constantly crave the story, wanting more. However, I’ve caught up with And Their Souls Were Eaten about 3 times, and I always hate the break I have to take in between. And The Sun Went Out helps with that though, and since I know it’s considerably longer I work at it whenever Souls needs an update.

Theresa Budd wrote:

Great game but… This is a really great game but I wish they would update the bear version. I was having so much fun playing it and now I’ve got as far as can but they need to update it so I can finish the story please.

Zachery Fitzpatrick wrote:

You’ll love the story …..untill you get a nice distance in…. then the book shuts itself on your fingers and then throws itself into a fire and tells you wait for a update.

Trevor Veltema wrote:

So good Honestly the best game I’ve played, I was on it from 12am to 7 am, it’s very addicting

Johannes Haler wrote:

UPDATE MORE PLEASE The story And The Sun Went Out is easily one of THE best stories I’ve ever read. The plot about how the sun disappesring and stuff is just amazing! Please, I’ve reached the part where update is needed and I NEED MORE! Thank you Tin Man Games, for making reading fun, and making one of the best books I’ve read!

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There’s a whole sub-group who are angry that you have to pay (or watch ads) to read the whole story. Since I know exactly how much I earn (hint: not an enormous amount), I’m not entirely sympathetic to these:

Alper Can Buyuk wrote:

Ad-fest So you need “choice-tickets” to make decisions and progress the story. The only way to get these is either purchasing them, or buying a pass which allows you to progress through the app. The other option is watching a 30 second ad for a measly 3 tickets, completely breaking the immersion. Shouldn’t be a free app in the first place if this is the way the devs are gonna go about it.

Franz Airyl Sapit wrote:

TOO PRICEY. NOT WORTH IT. In my local currency, two Story Pass (needed to play this,”pay to play”) of this game is worth as much as Dragon Age Origins, a PC game. Imagine that.

Kaneki Ken wrote:

Money-grubbing morons. Whoever is the developer(s) of this game is seriously an annoying one. Not only do you deem it, unfavourable to have a narrator. To continue the story, you force us to give you money? How cheap is that of a practice! You don’t deserve money of you’re too lazy to have a voice actor!

In their defence, ebooks are sold in a much simpler system. There’s a big yellow button that says “free sample” and it’s easy to understand that the free sample is specifically designed to suck you into buying the book. These story apps are exactly the same thing, but app stores list them as “free, with in-app purchases” which isn’t deliberately misleading but it feels like it is.

Sadly, there are sometimes bugs and those reviews are always awful. The only up side is that bug-fixing horrors are someone else’s job to fix. Yay?

I love it when reviewers give useful information (and even more when they rebut the “I don’t want to pay/watch ads” reviewers).

DERPING Dubstep wrote:

Worth the read Don’t expect this to be an adventure game with managing inventory and fight enemies. If your looking for that you better off getting something else but don’t let that deter you from this experience. Like it is described by the developers the story is really choice based. I noticed how different the story was when i looked at the screen shots and compared it to mine, i was surprised. (And their souls were eaten seems really interesting hope we get an update soon)

Kat Hargis:

Amazing Currently reading The Sun Went Out- and the story is compelling and leaves me craving more. It is definitely worth to purchase the Story Tickets pass or whatever it’s called. Not only does it support the creative geniuses behind the story, but it also keeps me satisfied with long reads rather than short ones. Compared to other choice-based novels, this one is probably my top pick, beating even TellTale games. Once again, definitely worth that I initially spent. Looking forward to the updates on the story!

krazykidfox wrote:

Fantastic I’ve read both stories up to date. They’re both fantastic, and I’m eagerly waiting for more content. Pick this game up, hands down. While yes, you do have to either watch ads or buy tickets to progress through the stories, it’s honestly a very fair and generous system that stands out from all of the Free-To-Pay mobile games out there. Props to you, devs. Get this, you won’t be let down.

I don’t have a name wrote:

Awesome (Currently reading “And The Sun Went Out”)Intriguing, mysterious, smart and a bit dangerous. I love the fact that, although the choices you have are both natural and logical and not extremely different from each other, any choice you make has a huge impact on the story, changing it in major but still subtle ways. The only downside, in my opinion is the fact that you can’t redo a choice. You have the option to start the whole story from the beginning but I don’t want to repeat everything just for one mistake

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I really love that people are passionate about the stories!

The first story has been running over 14 months and is well over 500,000 words altogether (although each read-through would be about 100,000 words – the length of a regular book). 

The person known as “I don’t have a name” is going to love the stuff that happens towards the end of the first story, when literally hundreds of seemingly insignificant choices have the power to save the world. . . or doom it forever.

The final final final piece of the story will be released roughly on Christmas Day. If you want to read the whole story from beginning to end—possibly several times, so you get different experiences—then this is your moment to jump on board!!

Getting into the reader’s mind

NB There are structural spoilers ahead for “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”, and more mid-level spoilers in the comments.

Regular readers will know that I live and breathe “Choices: And The Sun Went Out”, a serial interactive story produced by Tin Man Games. (It’s a massive story app available on Android or itunes, with new sections every week and the ability to choose where the protagonist goes and what they do.)

Although the app is called “Choices: And The Sun Went Out”, it contains two stories (so far!)

I was hired as a co-writer on the original story, and I have literally one section left to write. After FIFTEEN MONTHS and SIXTY updates, the story is ending. It’s an amazing feeling for everyone involved. Do buy the app as a Christmas gift from you to you. It’s a lot of fun.

But that’s utterly not what I’m writing about. The second story in the app, “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten” is my own project, set in the magical steampunk world of my novel and various other stories.

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Here’s one of the unique things about the entire “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” app: every four weeks there is a super-significant choice, usually a choice of which location to go to next. The reader gets to pick where they go… and then a dial appears to tell them what percentage of readers chose to go to the same place.

The writers can also see what all our readers are choosing.

So. Confession time.

Each super-choice is meant to be equally appealing, but at the end of Arc 1 it became clear to me that almost all of my readers had chosen one particular path. (I’m going to go back and edit the Arc 1 text to make the other choices more appealing.)

Arc 3 has just ended, and I was dying to find out what choices people made there. In Arc 3, the player chooses their animal form. They can shift into their animal form at various times during the rest of the story, and it’s often useful (or just fun and awesome). Certain animals have certain skills (did you know rats have an absolutely amazing sense of smell? Research, baby!)

There are five possible animal forms, but the reader was given a choice of only two animals, based on two of their previous choices. For example, if they had chosen to avoid physical conflict as much as possible, and to stay in the forest rather than seeking out people, they might be a deer. If you email me privately to ask for more detail, I’ll tell you more.

The five animal choices were: Sparrow, Otter, Deer, Greyhound, or Rat.

The statistics were always going to be skewed due to the Arc 1 choice, but here are the results:

Greyhound: 53%

Sparrow: 19%

Rat: 18%

Deer: 9%

Otter: 1%

All I really wanted to say was that if you’re an otter, you have read quite a different story to everyone else. Congratulations.

Introduction to Interactive Fiction

I thought I’d better write an entry today in case someone is a-googling after hearing my interactive fiction interview on 666 ABC Canberra at 7:25am this morning (wheeee!)

Hello and welcome.

I write both novels and interactive novels. Other people find interactive fiction via the gaming community, so there are usually elements of game play (for example, skill bonuses that are tested later). You can “read” an interactive “book” or “play” an interactive “game”. I use the terms interchangeably.

Within interactive fiction, there are two main forms: Choice-based interactive fiction (the reader makes choices from set options) and Parser interactive fiction (the reader types commands to move the story forward and/or solve puzzles). I’m strictly on the choice-based side, which is definitely more accessible for newbies. The list below will make it immediately obvious that I was drawn to interactive fiction via Choice of Games. It’s not a bad place to start. This is what games always look like on the inside:

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You pick one of the options, and click next. Easy!

Interactive fiction is almost always digital (the obvious exceptions are “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels, and the Windhammer Prize), and almost always released as a phone app on the itunes and android stores (and more, for Choice of Games).

If you’re curious about interactive fiction (IF), here are some good places to start learning more:

To learn by playing

Interactive Fiction Data Base This link takes you directly to my page, which has links to all of my games. My games are usually accessible to newbies, since I am one myself. There are a LOT of games and reviews on IFDB, and you can find lists (such as “Games for new players”) to sort through the mountain of stories.

The Interactive Fiction Comp is hugely popular, and all the games are free to play. Judging season is in October and the first half of November each year (right now!!) Usually about half the games are Parser games. Some games are a lot easier to download than others so if you get stuck just move on.

Birdland came fourth in the IF Comp 2015, and is a funny game using Twine. Free.

Choice of Games (CoG) is an extremely successful company with a clear in-house style.

Choice of Broadsides is a short CoG game that’s a perfect introduction. 

Choice of Robots is an excellent scifi CoG story.

Community College Hero is an excellent teen superhero CoG story (Pt 1). It’s not an official CoG game, but is released through their Hosted Games label.

Creatures Such as We has a more literary style than most CoG games. It’s also free, and placed second the IF Comp in 2014.

My own CoG Hosted Games (I’m not associated or affiliated with CoG in any way) are the Australian steampunk adventure Attack of the Clockwork Army, the piratical romp Scarlet Sails (which also placed 7th in the IF Comp 2015; this version was improved after the competition which is why it’s not free like the original version). I also wrote and edited for the retro scifi comedy Starship Adventures, which has a bunch of behind-the-scenes special features.

Cape is a beautifully written Superhero origin story, where you can add detail by choice. It’s a hypertext story, meaning that you click on bolded words rather than choosing choices from a list. It placed fifth in the 2015 IF Comp, and is free.

Tin Man Games releases what they call “Gamebook Adventures”. They range from the mostly-text scifi serial story “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” app on itunes or android (the European steampunk tale “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten” is the second story inside that app; I’m a co-writer on #1 and writer on #2) to the recent Warlock of Firetop Mountain which takes the famous Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone novel and turns it into a video game (including a fight system). They are internationally respected and an Australian company.

To learn by reading the blogs of reviewers (who also write games and talk about stuff)

Emily Short

Sibyl Moon

Jason Dyer

Sam Kobo Ashwell

 

To learn by joining a community

Be aware that the IF community is a small, welcoming, diverse, and kind group. Don’t be a troll. Don’t write when someone (especially a reviewer who is adding to the community with their comments and not getting paid for it) has made you feel angry.

Embrace different genders, sexualities, abilities, and nationalities.

Choice of Games forum

The Interactive Fiction Forum is very lively during IF Comp season (October/November).

 

An excellent book on Twine and writing, pitched for beginners to both

Writing Interactive Fiction with Twine by Melissa Ford

 

If you’re quick, you can probably catch me at Conflux today between when-I-get-there and 1:30 (when my workshop starts – it’s booked out already, but just email fellissimo@hotmail.com if you want to arrange something else workshop-ish). I’ll most likely be in the dealer room, since my publisher has a table (the publicist is actually hiding in this shot – can you see her elbow?)

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To learn by writing

Twine is certainly the easiest; it actually automatically builds an (adjustable) map for you. It takes about thirty seconds to learn, or ten minutes on your own. 

There are LOTS of online resources, including lists here and here about finding the authoring tool that works for you. You certainly don’t need to be a computer programmer! 

To get paid

Choice of Games pays advances of up to $10,000 for novel-length stories based on an approved outline and written with their tool, ChoiceScript. I know from personal experience that a story written for their less-exclusive “Hosted Games” label earns a respectable amount purely through royalties. Mine have earned around $1000 each, but there are no guarantees (and no limits!)

Sub-Q magazine pays for short fiction (they can be quite literary).

itch.io is a vibrant community that’s specifically designed to let indie creators sell their games on their own terms. It has loads of game jams that you can join, and some jams are competitive (which is a handy low-stakes way to see if your writing is appealing to others.

Contests pay a little (often not in money) but are hugely important to the community and to gaming companies, who sometimes even approach entrants to offer paid work. All the contests are publicly reviewed and judged, which is an intense emotional experience for any writer. Don’t ever interact with reviewers until after the competition is finished (and even then, always thank them regardless of what they said—every review is a precious gift, and the harsh ones are often the most useful).

Your stories must not be published, and they must be publicly available after the contest for free. Although the judging is public, they are NOT popularity contests, but based on judges being as neutral as possible in their ratings.

IF Comp is the biggest and best, but it’s NOT for beginners. Reviewers can be harsh in order to be more entertaining, or due to assuming you’re trolling the contest).

Windhammer Comp is printable (and short, and Australian) and high-status. First prize is $300, within runner-up prizes of $50. Not bad for a short story that doesn’t require learning a new tool! 

IntroComp (for games that aren’t even finished)

Spring Thing (called the Fall Fooferal if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere) is particularly welcoming to newbies, including a “Back Garden” where you can indicate that you’re new and reviewers should take that into account. It’s deliberately placed in a part of the year when the IF Comp is far away.

 

I won the Windhammer Prize in 2015, and my publisher included that story with my novel:

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Full disclosure: I have some kind of connection to pretty much everyone on this list, but every single connection is through reading their work and liking it.

Emily Short has a fantastic Intro to IF here.

“Stuff and Nonsense” cover

 

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I’m learning Twine while writing a game for the IF Comp. If I want to put an image into the game, the simplest way is to link to a url. Specifically, this one. Probably. If I’m doing this right.

Photographer: Jody Cherry (Exposure Studios)
Hair & Make-up: Jody Cherry (Cherrish Hair & Make-up Artistry)
Model: Amelia Brown

Cropped to fit and text added (with permission) by Felicity Banks

 

And from The British Museum’s AMAZING collection of historical images:

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And some pictures of a pocket watch that I just took:

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Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten

I’ve been working very hard on this story app for Tin Man Games all this year, and I’m incredibly proud of it.

The beginning is free, and the rest costs a few dollars (or a LOT of ads if you choose that option on Android).

It’s a subscription story that releases a new section each week. There are between 2 and 7 strands happening at any one time, with both delayed and instant branching.

Some of you are already subscribed to the award-winning “Choices: And the Sun Went Out” (I’m a co-writer there). In that case, you’re already subscribed to “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten”. (Congratulations!)

The original story, the near-future scifi game “Choices: And The Sun Went Out” will end in December this year. The second story, “Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten” will be “medium-length”. Ultimately it’ll work out to be around half a million words.

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On Apple, a subscription to either story gets you a subscription to both.

You can choose to have certain character/s speak to you through your apple watch, if you have one. (That, the music, and the sound effects can all be switched on or off – I like the music off but the sound effects on.)

On Android, you can buy (or earn by watching a LOT of ads) Story Passes, which can be spent on either story.

“Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten” is my project from the start; a steampunk adventure set in 1830s Europe when Queen Victoria was a teen princess and strange monsters roamed Europe. It uses the same magical steampunk universe as my novel “Heart of Brass2” and the ChoiceScript game “Attack of the Clockwork Army” but there aren’t any spoilers.

One of the features of the subscription system is that the writers (I have paid editors who happen to be excellent writers as well, and I encourage them to add cool bits) can adjust the story based on suggestions from readers. I’ve been known to add pirates, name characters after fans, and so on—all based on what people seem to like.

Place your random requests here, if you like!

Happy Birthday, Heart of Brass

You may have heard a rumour that books take a while to get published.

This is what I looked like around the time I finished the first draft of HEART OF BRASS:

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This is what I looked like when the finished book was shortlisted in the Text Publishing Prize (editing takes a while too):

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And this is what I looked like when the book was accepted for publication, after quite a bit more editing:

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Yep, the book is slightly older than my four-year old.

On the other hand, the period between meeting my publisher and being in print was lightning fast, taking less than a year.

As of today, the book is fully released in both print and digital formats. You can buy a digital copy from Amazon or Kobo, or buy a physical copy from Odyssey Books, who will post it anywhere in the world.

If you’re confused about the order of all my steampunk stories, here’s the lowdown:

Each one is designed to stand on its own without spoilers, but HEART OF BRASS was written first.

In-story chronological order:

  1. Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten. An interactive story set in 1837 Europe, to begin release as a subscription story (with new sections each week until it’s finished in 2017) by Australian gaming company Tin Man Games in August 2016 (at the time of writing it hasn’t started yet). I like to pretend the player character is Emmeline’s relative. It will be available as an app for itunes or Android.
  2.  Heart of Brass. A young adult steampunk novel set mainly in 1854 Australia. Emmeline Muchamore’s origin story. Available digitally on Amazon, Kobo, etc, and you can buy physical copies through Odyssey Books, who will post it anywhere in the world. There will definitely be a second and third book in the trilogy, most likely published in October-ish 2017 and 2018.
  3. After the Flag Fell. A printable interactive story that won the 2015 Windhammer Prize. That version is free here, and an updated version is included with all editions of Heart of Brass. It is set immediately after the events of Heart of Brass.
  4. Attack of the Clockwork Army. An interactive story that takes place in the 1860s, mainly in Australia. It allows you to play as one of Emmeline’s siblings if you wish (which will cause spoilers if you haven’t read Heart of Brass) or as an original character in a slightly different and spoiler-free reality. Available here as an app for any device, or it can be read on your browser.

5? Stuff and Nonsense. It’s likely I’ll write a silly interactive short story to go along with the official book launch on 27 August (it’ll be specifically designed to be played by two or more people/groups, ideally on foot in Canberra’s awesome Questacon science centre). It’ll cost $25 (or $5 if you’re a Questacon member), and RSVPing is strongly recommended!

Details to come…

So four (and a half) different stories, four different main characters, four different formats.

Strange but true!

Edited to add: I converted “Stuff and Nonsense” into a Twine game. You can read it for free here. Chronologically, it comes in between 3 and 4 above.

The second novel, SILVER AND STONE, will be released on 1 October 2017. It’ll be available via the publisher, stores, Amazon, kobo, B&N, etc etc.

Steampunk Interactive Fiction

My steampunk universe is wandering free in several forms (with at least one more time, place and engine still to come) so I need to clean house and make things clearer.

I’m adjusting the category tag I use to coordinate things to “All Steampunk Fiction” and having two facebook pages – one for interactive fiction, and one for physical books.

Hope this helps…..

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ARR ME HEARTIES!!!

The long weeks at sea have dragged by as the scuttlebutt is whispered from captain to cabin boy… there’s going to be a post-comp release of SCARLET SAILS… it’s twice as long… there are new chapters… there are even more chances to stab, shoot, or magically murder people that annoy you…

It turns out that (just this once) the rumours are true.

The beginning is free, and the rest is $2-$4.

You can buy it as an app through iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, or Google Chrome…. or on your computer.

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