IRON LIGHTS review

My fellow Odyssey Books author, Carmel Bendon, reviewed IRON LIGHTS for me on Goodreads. Here’s what she said:

Iron Lights is the third book in Felicity Banks’ The Antipodean Queen trilogy and the next in the adventures of the series’ heroine, Emmeline Muchamore. Iron Lights, however, stands alone as a cohesive read and there is sufficient reference to key elements of the earlier works – mainly in terms of characters common to all three books – to orientate readers who have not read the first two books.

Emmeline is a very appealing lead character, full of energy, optimism and conviction, and totally human in her devotion to her sweetheart, Matilda Newry, and an array of disparate and revolutionary friends, and all this powered by her amazing steam-fired heart of brass. When Emmeline is called into action by the quicksilver-generated vision of the impending fiery and brutal destruction of Melbourne and its inhabitants by an invading [mechanised] army, she responds with courage and determination, gathering her own extraordinary army of humans and machines.

Banks’ imagination has filled the story with mechanical wonders – activated metals with magical qualities and inventions that extend far beyond the usual machines to include such marvels as (deadly) Australian spiders with activated metal inserts that enable them to carry out their mistress’s bidding.

Banks’ evocation, and then subversion and manipulation, of small details of Australian colonial history is clever and got me checking (historical) names and details on more than one occasion. The story’s action is fast-paced & drives the plot forward with a precision akin to the machinery it embraces. At times the pace was almost too fast and I found it hard to keep up with Emmeline’s quickly-made plans and their even quicker implementation that saw her dashing across (and above) grand exhibitions and battlefields, and building and overseeing an extraordinary laboratory in an even more remarkable fortress but, in some ways, the rush added to the fun. In all, Iron Lights is well-written, imaginative, energetic, and a very enjoyable read.

IronLightsCover.FULLSize

“Iron Lights” Book Launch

Book launches are like holidays*: You look forward to them like crazy, and then when they’re over you’re deeply relieved. Win-win?

The first and third books of my steampunk trilogy were launched at the Canberra Writers Festival (2016 & 2018; the middle book was launched at Conflux 2017).

In 2016 the venue was the National Library of Australia, which was very cool!

This year the venue was Kings Hall in Old Parliament House (aka the Museum of Australian Democracy). It is, technically, a hallway between the senate and the hall of representatives. It’s a very nice hallway.

The pic on the left was taken by a good friend of mine. It’s King George in his Order of the Garter outfit. I’ve never wanted to give ‘best steampunk costume’ to a statue before.

Here’s my friend’s son out the front:

MikePic3

And one of the chambers, which I was entirely blasé about beforehand, but found very impressive when I actually walked in. The whole museum is brilliant.

MikePic2

The rest of the pics in this blog entry were taken by the brilliant writer and photographer Cat Sparks.

The selfies I took were blurry, but these photos are great. As is this:

30404825998_f0de48ce3a_o

This picture is an absolute classic. TJ was in a stroppy mood all day and his face and posture is so him I adore it. And I like the way my skirt looks, too.

I brought an adorable waistcoat for him, and offered several bribes for him to wear it—all to no avail. Oh well.

The mischief continued throughout the day, although between pouts TJ was not-so-secretly having a grand time. And Cat Sparks caught it all.

But this is my favourite TJ sequence (with my friend’s kid—Louisette was deeply missed but TJ adores him):

 

There were events in the rooms to either side, so foot traffic had a very dramatic ebb and flow as sessions started and ended. I gave TJ a balloon to play with, and many fond looks were cast his way by the passing crowds. Then the balloon popped.

Kings Hall has a highly polished floor and very little furniture. It echoes, amplifying sounds in an incredibly dramatic manner.

The balloon popped… like a gunshot.

The room paused, subtly, as everyone there (and in rooms beyond the hall) thought, “That wasn’t a gunshot. . . was it?”

I called out, “It was a balloon!” so nobody properly freaked out, but even so a couple of security types came and checked that yes, it was harmless.

So that certainly livened things up. I imagine that if a balloon had popped in the foyer across the road (that is, in the current Parliament House, where Barnaby Joyce was speaking) then the response might have been even more exciting.

Moving on.

Dymocks Belconnen supplied all the books for the festival, and did a great job organising everything at their end. (They now have IRON LIGHTS in stock—signed—by the way.)

43554432224_2d6a29d014_o

Here’s the crowd desperately trying to restrain their ecstasy at the very presence of the famous authoress Felicity Banks.

43365916915_bc0faca81c_o

Here’s a compilation of volunteers and audience, most of whom are wonderful friends of mine:

 

And here’s Katie, aka the writer KJ Taylor, another Odyssey author who assisted me in editing Iron Lights and then volunteered to introduce me.

You can actually see from the pics why I like her (and not just coz she’s a good editor, a flattering reader, and she bought me flowers).

I did the typical launch thing of blabbing briefly, and then doing a reading. I tend to read opening chapters so the text can explain itself, but I felt there was a bit of exposition and fourth-wall-cracking in the first few pages so I was planning to skip some bits. But then I did my practice reading**. My launch took place after a week of transparently selfish machinations among the Liberal party (turfing out yet another Prime Minister), while also forcing moderates to face the horrifying spectre of the awful Dutton and/or Scott Morrison and/or Tony Abbott (three of the most racist politicians of our time) gaining in power (we now have ScoMo as PM, who is the best of the three… which is not saying much). And it was all too appropriate to read every bit my opening chapter, especially standing in Old Parliament House. Things like. . .

‘I can hardly give your precious police force credit for catching me, since I appeared as expected at the door of Parliament, along with tens of thousands of signatures on the grand petition for women’s suffrage.’ I suppressed a shiver, remembering how frightened I was that day. ‘And what is more, that impressive battalion of police utterly failed to stop me’—I waved generally at myself, indicating my small stature and misbehaving red hair—’giving said petition to the relevant gentleman… which led directly to universal adult suffrage in this great colony.’

Dry clenched his teeth in a manner I found highly amusing.

‘In fact, if it wasn’t for sweet little Emmeline Muchamore getting shot,’ I said, ‘my own dear Matilda might not have been included in the victory for women’s suffrage.’

Dry wasn’t the only man to hate the original residents of Australia. I wondered what I would have done if the parliamentarians had spent longer thinking about who they wished to exclude from political rights, and was glad I didn’t have to live in that world.

and. . .

In a darker world, men like Dry would have made sure natives could never have a true political voice. Not as long as white men lived, or as long as their children and their children’s children readily took on the burden of hatred.

If ever my own book was going to make me weep, that was the moment.

—–

Back when PM Kevid Rudd finally apologised to the Stolen Generation, Peter Dutton walked out of the chamber, visibly showing his loathing for a simple apology.

Is there any more damning indictment on the man’s character?

Unfortunately yes. There is his treatment of asylum seekers. But I digress.

 

I said my bit, signed my books, lurked about the place in case the literary- and politics-loving crowd would like a bit of steampunk, and then went home.

The pic on the left above has a quote in the background that begins, “I’ve always loved politics”. It’s part of an exhibition celebrating female politicians.

More than one person has pointed out that Julie Bishop was virtually ignored by her own part during the leadership chaos last week.

What a time to release a (slightly) historical novel. We have come so far, and yet there is so far to go for Australia to be a decent and fair country.

I hope that my over-optimistic, magical, cheerful books can show a little of what Australia could be.

And I’m so glad I write fiction.

*when you have children and/or disabilities.

** on the way to the launch, naturally.

Me, me, me!

The brilliant writer and photographer Cat Sparks was kind enough to photograph the IRON LIGHTS launch at Old Parliament House today. If you’ve heard her name linked to the Canberra Writers Festival before, it’s because she was on some of the panels.

There are so many brilliant photos that I’ve decided to save this entry for pics that are specifically of me. Which is, not surprisingly, a lot. I suddenly have a million options for my next Author Photo.

The lady in the top hat is my friend, another Odyssey writer and also an editor for Iron Lights, KJ Taylor.

Tragically, Louisette was absent due to having a birthday party today. So no Sparksian pics of her.

Say what??

This weekend is the Canberra Writers Festival, and I have not one but TWO book launches.

Saturday is the official launch of MURDER IN THE MAIL: A BLOODY BIRTHDAY (complete with a week-long art installation) at The Front cafe & gallery (Lyneham shops, 3:30-5pm). It’s not officially connected to the Canberra Writers Festival at all, just happening on the same weekend.

Sunday is the official launch of ANTIPODEAN QUEEN 3: IRON LIGHTS at Kings Hall in Old Parliament House (2:45-3:15pm).

Here’s where it gets interesting.

The organiser told me that Kings Hall had standing room only for up to fifty people, and  no catering available.

This is a pic of Kings Hall from the Museum of Australian Democracy (aka Old Parliament House) web site:

Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 11.22.26 AM

So it looks like there may have been a typo in the organiser’s info. Just a zero. Nothing much.

The space is suitable for FIVE HUNDRED PEOPLE.

From the MOAD web site: “The bronze statue of King George V in the regalia of the Order of the Garter has been a central feature of the hall since the opening of the building in 1927. Open to the public from the earliest days and situated between the House of Representatives and Senate Chambers, it was a busy crossroads. During parliamentary sittings King’s Hall was a hive of activity swarming with members and senators, officers, journalists, secretaries, public servants, lobbyists and tourists.”

It’s really just a foyer/hallway. But WHAT a foyer (from the same web site).

Screen Shot 2018-08-22 at 11.30.07 AM

Since then I’ve spoken to the organiser again, who assured me there’s lots of other stuff going on, and that his description of “standing room only for 50 people” was accurate.

So, in conclusion, the space is SOMEWHERE between tiny and enormous. We may or may not have a microphone. We may have all of Old Parliament House mostly to ourselves, or we may be cramped behind a column in the foyer. Anything could happen!

See you Sunday?

Author Photo

Every so often I get asked for an author photo. Here are some that I use pretty often:

22072_270921942141_3752307_n

Nice and steampunky, but WILDLY out of date.

222786_10150250551320466_7646433_n

Amusing – captured just as the whistle blew, scaring the crap out of me. I’m actually (just barely) pregnant with Louisette in this photo.

Generally author pics want to see one’s face in perilous close-up, however.

14656311_10153766384276640_7537484359326292916_n

A fairly nice pic… but of course having a kid in an author pic is a no-no for anyone who’s not writing picture books. So this is what I use:

Authorpic

These two were taken by Cat Sparks at Conflux 2017. I had makeup on and everythink. Cat Sparks must be acknowledged by anyone who uses these (which is sometimes awkward).

Selfie taken on a miniature train.

IMG_2537

Selfie taken in the mirror, in costume, after my operation.

IMG_3981

 

What would you use if these were your choices, and you were an author trying to look super interesting and absolutely worth reading?

I think my favourite is the miniature train selfie. I look happy, and pretty nice despite the lack of makeup. Good hair and background, and looking away implies imagination.

I always take pics of myself at appearances (when I’m Properly Dressed) but so far they’ve never turned out well. Usually the lighting is bad, and I’ve begged a random passer-by to take the picture. Plus they’re generally full length, so even if my face is looking good it’s not high enough quality for an author photo.

UPDATE: The brilliant Cat Sparks (yes, her again!) took a billion photos of me at my latest book launch. These are the best, and I think the one that I accidentally posted twice is the absolute winner.

43554430344_74a9531555_o42463940160_c95fe3510d_o42463927780_e668c7a196_o42463903310_6ab5bfaffa_o43365902285_b86b3bc7c4_o42463940160_c95fe3510d_o42463927780_e668c7a196_o

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. 😛

Reading My Reviews

It’s no secret that I read my reviews. I enjoy an enraged negative review, as a rule, and I pay attention if the same criticisms come up more than once.

Tin Man Games has an app called “Choices that Matter” on iOS and Google Play, which is an interactive serial story app. I wrote about half of the first story (“And the Sun Went Out”) with Alyce Potter and KG Tan, all of the second story (“And Their Souls Were Eaten”, set in the same universe as all my steampunk fantasy), and I’m editing the third story (“And Their Heroes Were Lost” by Phill Berrie). Google Play has a LOT of reviews, so I spent literally hours last night getting up to date. I made a collection of some of my favourites.

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR “AND THE SUN WENT OUT”.

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 10.43.36 PM

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 8.18.21 PM

It warms my writerly heart to hear that interactive fiction is making people get back into reading. We hear this a lot!

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.45.33 PM

I love the poetry of the first one, and the insight of the second. Gonna make sure KG Tan and the others see these ones.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.47.21 PM

This just amused me. More than once.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.48.17 PM

I kinda like it when people get hysterical with need as they wait for updates. ‘Heroes’ is still going strong, just slowly.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.49.40 PM

I adore making readers cry.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.51.46 PM

Chosen because it’s fun to see contrasting opinions right next to each other.

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.52.47 PM

“Action-packed, intelligent stories shrouded in mystery” is quite the poster quote.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.53.07 PMScreen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.53.24 PM

Yay, more crying readers. Love it.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.53.52 PM

Poor, tormented reader.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.55.02 PM

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.56.56 PM

It’s amazing how positive and negative reviews say exactly the same thing (except in reverse).

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.57.34 PM

I love interactive fiction for its inclusivity, particularly on gender and sexuality.

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 6.59.24 PM

I love a detailed compliment. It’s always fascinating to see how people see the characters I’ve played a part in writing.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.04.51 PM

I wish I could reply and let them know that there IS a villain path in the third story.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.06.02 PM

That’s startlingly deep.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.06.24 PM

I love it when people favour “Souls” because of course it’s my baby.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.21.40 PM

I just love that last sentence. And yes, that is a sentiment expressed quite often. Yay?

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.22.02 PM

I agree 🙂 Phill and I both have novels published.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.23.25 PM

It’s funny how many people want to turn stories (my novels, too) into movies. I think “And The Sun Went Out” is unfilmable because of Moti, but my steampunk novels could easily be a movie someday (if they caught the right person’s eye, which is vanishingly unlikely).

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.24.03 PM

“And The Sun Went Out” makes a LOT of people cry, so hearing that “And Their Souls Were Eaten” had that kind of impact is absolutely wonderful.

The way it tells you how common your ending is, is a really cool & unique thing in this app. Kudos to Tin Man Games.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.24.17 PM

I love it when readers play a story over and over to get different pieces of the story or different endings.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.24.36 PM

Aw!

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.26.54 PM

A LOT of people (including the writers) want a Moti-con. I like this review because most people automatically default to male with gender-neutral characters, but Wendy has defaulted to female. Yay!

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.27.55 PM

I do write books! Comments like this are both great and frustrating, since I can’t immediately sell them a pile of my novels.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.29.03 PM

It’s funny (and good) how many people have an awareness of the game developers needing to be paid.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.29.28 PM

“Not epic” is a perfect burn. And then the next review is totally different.

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.32.04 PM

*love*

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.33.23 PM

Turning people gay is *takes off sunnies* what I do.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.35.33 PM

It’s funny to eavesdrop on a discussion of story methods.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.35.52 PM

Same. We writers are just as in love with Moti as the readers. And yes, we cried too. And we badly want our own Moti-con devices.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.36.17 PM

I am also human *wink*.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 7.37.10 PM

Not MANY children could write a 600,000+ word branching narrative, but sure. You do you.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 8.12.32 PM

Lol, that’s certainly an up side to interactive fiction.

Screen Shot 2018-06-26 at 8.17.08 PM

I love that she assumes a female writer, and reckons my novels would “storm the shelves”.

I get WAY more reviews (literally thousands more) for my interactive stories than for my novels. It shows how lucky I am to have been born in the right moment to flourish in the digital interactive fiction sphere.

The Woman Tax

Last night I crashed my car, because I am a woman.
 
On Tuesday last week another creative Australian woman, comedian Eurydice Dickson, was killed in a park as she walked home from a gig. Like me, she sometimes takes slight risks in order to live her life and have the career she has.
 
Last night, I went to the University of Canberra for a writing session, taking 6 year-old Louisette with me because I don’t have any other options. The UC Writers’ Group has been so helpful I named them in Silver and Stone as one of the reasons my second steampunk book was finished on time. These writing sessions are a lifeline. They also take place at an awkward time of day when my kids are with me, and it’s dark.
 
As always, Louisette was slow and silly getting into the car, and I was quietly frightened—hiding my fear from her, as always. (She’s six. She doesn’t yet know to be frightened, and I don’t want to teach her—yet. I will teach her soon. All mothers teach their daughters to be afraid. We have to.)
 
Like most universities, UC has underlit places, and I was uncomfortably aware that I needed to do a 3-point turn in order to get out of a small carpark that I chose because it’s near the door. My 6 year-old daughter and I were in danger (probably very little, but perhaps not), and I had to get us out as quickly as possible.
 
So, expecting Louisette to scream, “My seatbelt isn’t buckled yet!” at any second, I backed up. I hit a gate hard enough to tear our back bumper.
 
Because I’m a woman.
 
Would people be holding a candlelit vigil for Louisette and I next week if I hadn’t driven away quickly? Almost certainly not. But maybe. Because I’m a woman, and she’s just a girl.
 
This is how women live every day. Should I have stayed home? Well, no. The majority of murdered women are killed in their home.
 
There is no safe place. I live with this fear every day.
——————————-
I arrived home from crashing the car and found a speeding ticket for $279. The ticket shows that I was driving 88km/hr in an 80km/hr zone—so not speeding MUCH, but certainly speeding.
It was dated 9 June 2018.
That was the day I ran two parties for my son’s 4th birthday (the entry directly before this one is about the cake). Why two parties?
Well, read on. . .
Chris, TJ, my brother, and my nephew all have their birthdays within about a week. Last year and the year before I’ve organised ‘group’ birthday parties at inside playgrounds. Inside playgrounds cost money (bad, but makes them a special occasion, and I tell everyone to pay for the playground instead of buying gifts). June is Winter, so outside isn’t really an option.
Why do I organise the birthday? Simple. In the above list of birthday boys, there are two obvious women: the wives. Since my brother’s wife is only related to the rest of us by marriage, the birthday duties fall on me. (The other obvious option is the matriarch aka my mother, but she lives in Gundagai so she’s already making a 5-hour round trip just to show up.)
Could a boy organise a family event? Lol, no!* When a man and a woman get married, the man no longer has to remember his own mother’s birthday—that’s what a wife is for! The woman, of course, is now responsible for two extended families instead of one.
I don’t make the rules.
So this year my extended family didn’t like the idea of going to an inside playground for a group party, so I needed to please both TJ and the numerous relatives somehow.
Hence, two parties in one day.
The party in the morning was kid-oriented, and the party in the evening was adult-oriented (we all put in $20 and got Chinese…. I kept it as simple as humanly possible… with ice cream and leftover dino cake for dessert).
I asked my sister to come to the kid party and help me with the cake. I don’t see her often so it was a great opportunity for our kids to play together while we could chat and be silly over icing and sprinkles.
Nope. She was busy.
Mum said she’d come to the kid party. Great!
So here’s what happened on the day:
Mum decided at the last minute that making sure her DOG wasn’t lonely was more important than showing up, and she was 45 minutes late. Thanks mum! (No really, thanks—if she hadn’t show up when she did there wouldn’t be a video of the cake, which was what I really really wanted.)
The (single) mother of TJ’s best friend (I literally checked the date with her before booking the party) was deathly ill so Chris and I needed to pick up her two kids.
So I think you can see why I was going a whole 8km above the speed limit that day.
But I did all the things. I made an epic cake. I made sure TJ’s best friend was there. I gave TJ an awesome day/week and also arranged an awesome day (totally different day) for Chris’ birthday. I stayed on budget and gave all my extended family a fabulous get-together in the evening—making sure it started early so my parents could drive back to Gundagai in enough time to get a good night’s sleep. (Not a single guest arrived on time, either. My family can be pretty rude.)
Because I’m a woman. When it comes to family events, and homework, and school stuff, and family health, and remembering important things, and household cleanliness. . . the buck stops here, with the woman.*
What a shame the value of a woman’s buck is only seventy-three cents due to the institutionalised sexism of gender-based pay discrepancies.
But that’s another story.
*Obviously there are exceptions.

Murder for Kick(starter)

Last Saturday at midnight, my first ever Kickstarter Campaign ended, raising funds via pre-orders (and special rewards) for “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday”.

Mistakes were made.

One of my main mistakes was that, after looking at the Australia Post web site, I thought an A4 envelope thinner than 2cm would cost $1.

Turns out they cost $2.

Ouch.

Another was that I sent out my review copies too late. Only one actually arrived in time to get a review during the campaign (and that was mainly because I literally delivered it to her door here in Canberra). You can read that review here, and listen to her interview here.

Other review copies went elsewhere in Australia, to New Zealand, the US, and Canada. Last I’ve heard, NONE of them have been fully received yet. I do know that the first envelope took almost a month to reach Canada.

IMG_4675

(Review copies ready to get their postage on – John Scalzi is on top because his address is public.)

So, as I mentioned, the Kickstarter is over now.

I mentioned “Murder in the Mail” on a few forums when the Kickstarter began (int-fiction and choiceofgames.com, which I’m fond of), and there was a clear bump in US sales as a result, and a little bit of conversation in those forums.

But asking $40 for a thing that doesn’t technically exist yet is a lot! Even though this is dramatically cheaper than anything else similar.

IMG_4599

(That pic is review copies getting put together)

I also didn’t realise in my planning that Kickstarter’s maximum time for a campaign is 60 days. I’d been planning a three-month campaign (which included Melbourne Supanova, as well as giving the writing team more time to get certain bits and pieces done in time for those review copies). So that was… unhelpful.

I also named an extra-high amount because… oh, I can’t even remember properly. I need to sell around 100 copies to break even, but there are so many tiny expenses (seed envelopes, special pens, etc) that I would have to audit myself to figure out the actual cost (as opposed to the estimated cost).

That’s not quite true. I’ve been careful to record everything over about $2, and I do know how much I’ve spent. I’ve just ordered a bunch of stuff printed in batches of 100, so after that invoice comes in I’ll know what the actual total cost per 100 turned out to be (approximately; I bought larger quantities of some of the items because it was cheaper that way). Plus I know Kickstarter can take up to 10% (depending on… stuff I don’t understand enough to calculate) so I figured 100 x $40 = $4000; eh, let’s make it $5000. It all seemed so shiny and easy back then. NB: I don’t have to sell 100 copies during the Kickstarter to break even. Didn’t remember that at the time.

IMG_4776

(Louisette and I making up hand-written packets of sunflowers that we harvested from our own garden. If the reader plants them in late Spring/early Summer, I think they’ll actually grow.)

Ultimately (and very much saved by the loving support of extremely trusting parents and in-laws) the Kickstarter was a success.

I am VERY relieved, as you can imagine! Kickstarter has a rather exciting rule that if you’re not fully funded by the end of the campaign period, you get nothing. All the pledges already made simply vanish into thin air!

So that didn’t happen, but my parents & in-laws are unlikely to save the day so dramatically in future.

So…..

There WILL be a new story. This one will be fantasy, called “Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae”. It will have 3 parcels instead of 8, and although it’ll have a Kickstarter Campaign the goal will be much smaller.

I’ll also be selling special boxes/folders of “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” at all the conferences I attend this year.

IMG_4773

(An array of pretty containers for the story.)

Specifically, these:

Melbourne Supanova (April) in the Artist Alley stall “Aussie Spec Fic”
Nimmitabel Steampunk Fair (May)
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.

You can of course also give me money pretty much whenever (at conferences or online) to get a copy posted to you over the normal 8 week period (or in a single parcel if you absolutely insist).

There will be one “lot” posted out in June-July, another in September-October, and then… more mail-outs sometime after that 🙂

“Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” will be officially launched in August 2018, and will be available to buy until September 2019.

“Magic in the Mail: Feuding Fae” won’t be finished until 2019, although if you specifically want to order THAT story then just make it clear when you email me (and/or email MagicintheMailStories@gmail.com). Keeping in mind it MIGHT be cheaper than $40. I’ll probably have a price in a couple of months. I already have some REALLY COOL STUFF AND ART AND THINGS.

The simplest way to get the story is to email me at MurderintheMailStories@gmail.com with your ADDRESS, EMAIL (in case things go wrong), and PAYMENT DETAILS (eg “I just deposited the full payment into your account/PayPal, under the name “Bob Flibbertigibbet”).

Make sure to label your payments with something unique to you (your name and/or the name of the recipient). Labelling things “Murder in the Mail” will NOT be helpful.

PayPal: MurderintheMailStories@gmail.com

Bank details:
Commonwealth Bank (Australia)
06 2692
3320 8197

And here’s a spot the difference game. If you’re very familiar with the Odyssey list, you’ll be able to tell which author was recruited at the last minute from these two pictures.

felicityroom-fini

 

4.MurderintheMail

Many many thanks go to Shauna O’Meara, the artist, for altering that pic more than once after it was finished. And to A Certain Writer for enthusiastically jumping on board when one of the other writers had to drop out.

Both will most definitely be involved in the next story!

(PS I don’t think anyone actually will solve this picture. There’s a LOT of stuff in it.)

What I earned this year

Full-time writers in Australia have an average income of around $12,000 (I know, yikes). In Canberra, which has a lot of good public service jobs, the average income is around $52,000.

I just did my taxes, and worked out that I earned just under $20,000 last financial year while working full-time. 100% of that came from writing (the vast majority from interactive fiction). So depending on one’s perspective, that’s either really impressively awesome, or shockingly awful.

If I was healthy and single and childless, I could probably survive on $20,000 a year. It wouldn’t be easy, but I’ve lived on the edge before. (I once spent $5/week on food for several months—but that was certainly not sustainable, even for a young and healthy person during friendly weather.) On the other hand, if I’d been babysitting for the same number of hours I spent writing, I’d have earned at least twice as much.

So, again, whether it’s awesomely good or awesomely bad is a matter of perspective.

It should be noted that I’m not healthy, or single, or childless. I keep a complicated house running fairly smoothly, and I look after two little people (and, in some respects, Chris—he is my carer in many ways, and I am his in some ways too). I am overwhelmingly not a healthy person, and some days I barely function at all.

So. $20,000. It’s both a huge and a tiny amount, and it’s $20,000 more than I earned for most of my writing career. Plus I can say “writing career” without sarcastic quotes these days.

It’s in my nature to always push myself for more. I’m sure that if I earned $100,000 last financial year I’d be looking for ways to earn more, or work less, or something. A lot of creative people look at others and think, “Wow. If my career was where theirs is, I’d be so satisfied!” I definitely remember specifically aiming for the impossible amount of $20,000/year at some point—a point at which $20,000 was as laughable as $100,000 is now.

I also have a book published—two, in fact, and at least four more on the way. I’m so famous that people seek me out at conferences, waiting for my latest book. I get fan mail quite often. I get people—quite a few people—saying “This is the best story I’ve ever read”. I even get actual reputable game companies emailing me to offer me work (I have two REALLY COOL projects on the go at the moment that I can’t talk about). My income doesn’t even cover our mortgage (or the medical expenses of this year), but why should it? I’m the closest thing to a stay at home parent our household has, so I’m doing a bunch of important and often difficult work before I earn a cent.

Have I convinced you that I’m not just messing around with this writing thing (after more than twenty years of devoting myself to the craft)? More importantly, have I convinced myself? Maybe a little bit. Certainly it’s time to pause and celebrate how far I’ve come, and to shift some of my pile of insecurities into the “irrational” pile.

So, yay. Much yay. And I suspect this financial year will be even better!

IMG_3446

Artist’s impression of a life of leisure.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

One of the gifts my parents gave me was the belief that writing is not a job, but a hobby. I didn’t write full-time until I was unable to do any other work (and I’m still not making minimum wage, even though I’m well above the average Australian full-time writer’s income of $12,000/year)

I am giving Louisette the same gift, assuring her that her stories are excellent and at the same time teaching her that if she’s a writer she’ll be something else as well.

It happens that she really is a good storyteller, with an epic imagination. At one stage she had had about thirty imaginary friends, puppies, horses, and relatives (including imaginary parents), as well as a range of vehicles to bring them all along with us.

She also has a great mind for science and engineering, which I loudly and unconditionally encourage. Last Christmas we bought her ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER, which she loves, and which led to her winning a school prize for a House-Car-Plane device this year.

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 7.57.02 PM

This year one of her gifts is this building kit, which includes its own motor! How cool is that, for $25ish!

Screen Shot 2017-10-17 at 8.00.14 PM

But I digress.

Today, for the first time, she pointed out a plot hole in a TV show (specifically, “Why doesn’t the yellow dog go with the blue dog to make the fence? They’re both builders.”) That warmed my writerly heart.

But then I read her the first chapter of THE MONSTER APPRENTICE, bracing myself for my harshest review ever. Not only did she like the story and immediately care about the outcome (phew!) but she understood and extrapolated the universe of the story.

Rahana is a fairly low-tech world (although their ships are more advanced than the rest of their tech due to the fact that the world is made up of thousands of islands), and in the first chapter of THE MONSTER APPRENTICE an isolated and defenceless island wakes in terror at the news that a pirate ship is approaching.

I asked Louisette what she was worried about in the story. She said she was worried about the pirates coming, because Dance and her family, “don’t have swords or shields or anything”.

Here’s the thing: I never mentioned any kind of weapon in the story. She figured out the technology level because of her knowledge of history and/or the conventions of fantasy fiction!

I’m misty-eyed just thinking about it.

THEN she blew my mind a second time by suggesting, “Maybe they’ll invent electricity and that will help them fight the pirates.”

She’s five years old, and she’s a master of military tactics. That’s my girl.

 

 

Pictures worth thousands of words

I’m not a visual artist, and I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of influence I was allowed to have on my books covers (Odyssey Books has a top-notch cover game).

It’s a good thing they go through a few drafts, too.

Can you see what’s wrong with the first draft of SILVER AND STONE?

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 9.06.24 AM

Thank goodness for Chris, and for my fellow ‘Oddies’ (we Odyssey authors are constantly talking book stuff together), who noticed what I didn’t.

So that was changed.

I was SO PROUD to finally have the finished cover, and to be able to put the two covers side by side on facebook. Only to realise (due to facebook’s arbitrary cropping) that half my followers were wondering why I’d called my first book “Fart of Bras”.

Does one’s underwear usually fart? If so, why? And how?

Screen Shot 2017-10-04 at 3.49.37 PM

In unrelated (but still vaguely visual) news, I was amused by the juxtaposition of these two reviews on the “Choices That Matter” Google Play app. The first made me laugh out loud, and the second was just icing on the cake.

Screen Shot 2017-10-02 at 7.40.32 AM

That’s an excellent screenshot summary of the review-reading experience.

There’s reviews on iOS too, but barely any (and they get deleted every time there’s an update). I gather it’s a lot easier to leave a Google Play review, since there are several new ones every day.

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).

IMG_3369

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.

IMG_3378

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).

 

IMG_3381

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.

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 5.15.10 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 5.15.10 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 5.26.58 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 6.23.42 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 6.52.22 PM

It will look like this to the player:

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 6.56.12 PM

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:

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 8.03.39 PM

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.

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.

“Stormhunter” flounders as Satalyte falls to Earth

Most small publishers stop running within two years. Which is not surprising, when you consider that the large publishers make a loss on the vast majority of the books they produce. It’s the occasional bestseller keeping everyone afloat. People just don’t read enough books.

With that reality, small publishers deserve more credit rather than less. They know they’re probably going to fail. In my experience, publishers are greater dreamers than writers—writing, after all, costs very little.

Satalyte Publishing accepted my novel “Stormhunter” some time ago, but ultimately has just decided to close their doors. It’s not an easy choice, but I became friends with the couple running the show, and I’m glad they were smart enough to step away from their beautiful dream before it became a nightmare.

So, the fate of “Stormhunter” is once more a blank. It certainly eased my concern that I have SO much paid writing work to do already, and that “Heart of Brass” is safely published and in the hands of readers all around the world.

Despite an unfortunate end to our professional relationship, I have gained several good friends and quite a bit of useful knowledge from my journey with Satalyte. The publishing house is no more, but those friendships will last forever—and all the more because of a shared experience of grief.

Like many small publishers, Satalyte deliberately published the kind of books that are excellent, but not considered “marketable”. They made publishing better forever, and I’m grateful to them as both reader and friend.

Little Miss Helpful

For those who aren’t up to date on their classic picture books, “Little Miss Helpful” is about a person who’s always trying to help people and ultimately makes their lives much, much worse. One of her friends is sick and trying to rest, so she shows up to help. She wakes him up over and over again in the process of attempting to clean for him (destroying his kitchen in the process), and ultimately both are injured and I presume the friend gets pneumonia and dies. (I’m extrapolating from the fact that he ends up in a pond.)

unadjustednonraw_thumb_8606

(Pictured: An unrelated children’s picture book.)

So this week I’m struggling to accept the fact that an introverted kid who is not mine doesn’t get to sit next to her best friend (aka my kid) six hours a day (but is still able to play with her multiple times a day). Her mum is long since over it but I’m still in overprotective mode.

Today I have a brand new drama that also fits the “Felicity Banks clumsily attempts to help a person/people who would be much better off if she didn’t bother” narrative.

The oversimplified version—also the version that I’m emotionally responding to—is that I wanted to write a story with a protagonist who was disabled, in part because that’s one of the many groups suffering from Trump’s power… but it has become clear that I’m not smart enough to cause more good than harm.

Like most oversimplifications the above is not entirely true, but has an element of truth in it. It was mostly a structural issue that caused me to need to drop that particular aspect of my protagonist. Still. . .

It’s hard for privileged people to learn how privileged we are. It doesn’t matter how many advantages you’re born with, life is hard. Stuff happens. And when someone points out that an aspect of their life is harder than yours, it hurts. It feels like your own struggles are less legitimate. When you’re trying to remember whether “gay” is still a insult or not, and then you find out that intersex is a thing that you also need to understand and learn about, it feels like people are just taking offence no matter what you do.

Those feelings are knee-jerk reactions, and they’re not actually true. There’s a really thoughtful article about emotional exhaustion here.

So yes, privileged people also have struggles. But part of being a decent human being is to get past that knee-jerk “Arg too hard!!” reflex and realise that it’s vitally important to acknowledge other people’s struggles, and to use what power we have to help others.

I’ve been passionate about discrimination against people who are LGBTIQ since before I knew that one of those letters applied to me. I’m a Christian and have felt since my teens that Christians treat gay people and Muslims poorly—which is exactly the opposite of what Christian behaviour should be. But even thought I’m disabled myself, I’ve never fought for the rights of people who are disabled. (Partly, if I’m honest, because I’m still coming to terms with it in my own body and mind… after fifteen years.)

The term “Social Justice Warrior” is an insult, but since Trump was voted in as US president the world is badly in need of exactly that kind of warrior to mitigate the damage he is doing to pretty much every vulnerable minority group anyone can think of.

 

When my daughter found out about Trump, she gave up her allowance for months so she could donate it to kids and communities in the third world. I thought about what I could do and realised that financial help and/or things that involve me leaving the house (like protest marches) are rarely an option. But I still have a working brain (sometimes) and I have two powerful resources at my disposal: my imagination, and my readers. If I write interesting and diverse characters, it will help all of my readers to understand and empathise with people who are different to them. And it won’t feel like work.

I can’t earn a living wage; I can’t walk or stand or march without pain; I can’t vote in US elections; I can’t run to Nauru and singlehandedly gather up all the innocent children and bring them safely home with me; I can’t roam the streets making sure non-cisgender people aren’t getting beaten up; I can’t teach manners to Islamophobic trolls; I can’t stop Australian politicians from stoking racist fears in my own country—but I can write.

Here is a music clip (technically an ad for last year’s Paralympics):

 

 

I watch this all the time. It’s one of the greatest music video clips ever made. I actually have a real-life problem with Louisette being jealous of people with physical disabilities because of this clip (specifically, she wants to have either one leg—so she can do a kick-ass hopping high jump—or no arms so she can be an awesome drummer). I have to keep explaining to her that if she wants to have the amazing abilities of these musicians and sportspeople, then she has to train like they do.

Unlike most inspirational stuff (which is nauseating at best, and insultingly incorrect at worst) this actually works for me. I know that every single person in this clip has thought, “My life sucks! I can’t do anything! My body is holding me back from the life I want to have! This is so unfair!” at least once. I’m technically disabled physically, but my depression usually bothers me even more than the physical side, so getting told to look on the bright side or cheer up (by healthy, not-depressed people) often actually means, “Stop bothering me with your pain.” The clip above makes me feel good with the music, and means more to me than any other song because every person in it still has big parts of their life that suck. It hits the exact right place between pity and awe (both of which are foolish reactions able-bodied people often have to people who are disabled, ie “Oh, poor you!” or “Wow, you’re SO brave!”). Actually, people who are disabled do have unique challenges, but they’re also just… people. (There’s an interesting article about the social pressure to be the “perfect” disabled person here.)

The clip cleverly erodes the patronising pity I might feel towards people who are physically disabled in various ways. There really are certain elements of physical disability that are wicked cool. These are my two favourites:

  1. Prosthetics. The whole field of prosthetics is evolving so quickly that it’s incredibly exciting. Those curved “running legs” sportspeople use are actually faster than normal legs. There are other prosthetics that also do certain things better than nature. I’m with Adam Hills (who, incidentally, has one leg): Instead of calling people “disabled”, he says we should call them something that reflects how freaking cool their bodies are. Hills suggests “mutants”. Like, X-men style. Obviously that’s not going to happen, but there’s truth in the comedy.       Now that I think about it, I actually had a one-legged romantic interest in “Scarlet Sails“, just because piracy does rather lend itself to non-standard body shapes. She even has a slightly-awkward sex scene due to my remembering Adam Hills talking about how he always needs to remove his prosthetic leg before sex. And in “After the Flag Fell” the main character almost certainly loses an arm—not just because steampunk lends itself to cool prosthetics, but because he’s an actual historical figure who lost an arm due to a battle wound.
  2. As a failed linguist (literally; I failed my second semester at uni) and a retired cross-cultural missionary (also literally; for ten years I worked towards a career in Indonesia teaching English etc to kids in the slums), I’m fascinated by the deaf community. Sign language is such an interesting set of languages, and the community itself is just that: a community. A lot of deaf people who could have their hearing restored through technology choose not to, because their deafness is as much a part of their culture as breasts are to a woman (As a breast owner, let me explain: So what if I’m not breastfeeding and never will? So what if my breasts require expensive specialised clothing and constantly get in the way? They’re mine and I’d be VERY upset if they were removed).

1024x500

(Picture: Would YOU waste time looking at her wooden leg?)

So as I was working on the outline of an interactive story, I had an idea. I could have the reader choose a disability for the protagonist from three options:

  1. Someone with a double above-the-knee amputation. This is a significant disability in the real world, but in my world the character lives in an enormous floating city (influenced by, among other things, the Bajau people, a refugee people group who live almost entirely on water and have extraordinary abilities as a result) so I wanted to write that they had the usual prosthetics (cosmetic, running, practical, “shorties”, etc) as well as a prosthetic tail that makes them look like a real-life mermaid—including a superior swimming ability. I’m already jealous of this character’s ability in my mind, despite the fact that they’d also have significant disadvantages.
  2. Someone who is mute. Originally I wanted to write a character who was both deaf and mute, but a writerly friend pointed out that not being able to describe sounds would cut back on sensory immersion (a vitally important aspect of writing; my writing isn’t good enough to make up for it) so I toned it back. The protagonist’s city is made of transparent spheres, and getting from one to another is slightly awkward. I’d already designed it as a place where everyone uses sign language every day to chat through the glass during that awkward transition from one sphere to another. As I was thinking about the real-world deaf community, I developed my setting into a place with a large minority of deaf-mute individuals (not such a surprising thing, given a recessive gene for a condition causing people to be deaf-mute, combined with a relatively small population). That way I could develop a whole bunch of different and complementary sign languages (slang, trading, one-handed, something specifically for talking underwater, something specifically for the protagonist to talk privately with their best friend, etc). It would be such an interesting and fun world! Languages are fun! I’m also borderline bilingual (Indonesian) and have lived in Indonesia with Indonesians for six months, and observed firsthand the way language changes the way I thought about things.
  3. A phobia of deep water. This is actually one of my own (extremely numerous) phobias (making research a breeze), and of course would be very difficult when the protagonist lives in a floating city. Unlike depression, it’s specific enough (and has so little effect on my actual life) that I could write about it without getting depressed myself (I’ve written a story about the real-life experience of depression, but it’s…well, depressing). Although I wouldn’t recommend an anxiety disorder to anyone (duh), it DOES have the positive side effect that I deal with fear every day, so when something really scary happens (like having a baby, or having Chris in hospital with a rare disease that is both incurable and potentially paralysing or deadly… yes, that happened; he got better) I actually handle it quite well. It also means that the character would adjust more easily to the time they spend on land (the Bajau people get badly landsick, and so will my non-player characters—but less so if they choose option #3).

So now that everyone is dying to read my nonexistent book, here’s why it probably isn’t happening:

Good intentions are not the same thing as good results. Obviously, my aim is to write a positive, enjoyable, interesting story that also gives people with certain disabilities a chance to play a character who actually shares that aspect of their life. And a story that helps people who don’t have any of those conditions to feel that classic “oh they’re just like us” moment that we all need to have about… well, everyone who is not our physical & psychological clone.

However.

One of the places I started my research was in the “Choice of Games” forums. “Choice of Games” is a hugely influential American interactive fiction company. (I am not associated or affiliated with them in any way; but I’m a huge fan and a Hosted Games author several times over.) They work hard to be inclusive, and it shows. The forums are a friendly, welcoming, helpful, and diverse place. I have accidentally stepped on people’s feelings there in the past (again, helping where help was not wanted) and people took me aside privately, and politely taught me how to be a better person. I was also forgiven by the people that I hurt.

I have genuine friends there that have made my life better, plus a really cool arch-enemy (you can read about him in the special features of Starship Adventures), and even someone I’ve since met in real life. Some of them are very different to me in various ways, and some are very similar (poor things). But I knew that I needed to research deafness, muteness, and the lives and feelings of amputees in order to write about them in a way that did more good than harm. I also knew that my research needed an extra layer: I needed to find at least one beta reader from the groups I was trying to represent. They would pick up on dumb mistakes I made. The forum was the perfect place to start looking for those beta readers.

img_0413

(Pictured: Not a suitable beta reader.)

So I started a new topic, called something like, “Looking for beta readers who are deaf-mute or double-amputees”. I winced as I wrote “deaf-mute” and “double-amputee” but even someone with one leg has a very different life to a person with both legs amputated, so I needed to be specific.

Within 24 hours people had already replied telling me they’d thought (based on the title) that I was deliberately trolling the forums, and an admin had changed the title (with my belated blessing) to be less offensive.

So as quickly as that, I screwed up. Alarm bells began ringing, and they continued ringing as various people talked to me via the thread, communicating (gently) how very uncomfortable they were that someone so ham-fisted would be writing such a story.

I immediately googled the terms I’d used, looking for less offensive words to mean “deaf” “mute” and “amputee”, while also asking the people in the thread. I found that the correct words are (wait for it) “deaf”, “mute”, and “amputee”. I also found that it’s preferred that people put the “person” first, ie I should say “A person who is deaf” rather than “a deaf person”. But clearly the title I used for the forum topic was still deeply offensive.

So I’m already at a loss. How can I write about this set of disabilities when it’s apparently not okay to say the words aloud? Someone (rather brilliantly) suggested that hey, it’s a fictional world, why not make up words? The only problem is that I then have to explain that “sffhuiwe” (or whatever…) means “deaf”. So we’re back to square one.

I have since worked out that (a) The thing that’s offensive is that my attempt at brevity made it seem like the disability was the most interesting part of the character, which it definitely isn’t, and (b) It’s easy enough to describe the actions of the characters without using any of the words that may be offensive to some people.

Now is a good time to mention that Australians have much more casual manners than Americans. It’s actually something I love about Australia. I find it more honest and open and straightforward… but I’ve run into trouble at least once before because people thought I was being rude when I thought I was being friendly. So that complicates matters, especially since the vast majority of my readers are from the US.

In the meantime, someone I deeply respect (especially in the field of interactive fiction) pointed out that if I had the reader choose one of those three options, it was structurally saying that all three options (I called them “quirks”) were comparable. Which is just not true (even though it’s true within the story).

So that’s almost certainly the nail in the coffin for my “pick a quirk” idea. Which is sad, but a far better fate than having me write 200,000 words that made the world worse.

So that’s what I’m crying about today. I really wanted to represent disabled people in fiction, but my own limitations (and privileges) make it a terrible idea.

Having written all the above, I’m no longer sure that giving up is the right option (even though it almost certainly is) so I’ll think some more, and talk to some more people, and make my final decision after that. But before I make too much of a nuisance of myself.

Well, probably.

As always, the questions that matters most to me is, “Will this cause harm?” but the second most important question is, “Will it make the story better?” It’s clear to me that these aspects of a fully realised and interesting character absolutely DO make the story better. That’s not an easy thing to give up.

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!

bear-100

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

screen696x696

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.

screen696x696

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.

Weak Words

I haven’t posted any writing advice in a while, possibly because a lot of my work is out there now and anything I say is likely to be hypocritical and I’m scared of people pointing that out.

But here is a great, simple, well-explained infographic on words that should be dragged out and shot. Take a look!

http://writerswrite.co.za/5-weak-words-to-avoid-and-what-to-use-instead

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.

screen696x696.jpg

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!