Conflux 2016

Conflux is Canberra’s speculative fiction conference. It happens every year on the October long weekend (even when that means starting in September, like in 2016 and 2017).

Each year features guests of honour from around Australia and the world; panels on a variety of topics (including deliciously blatant fanfests); workshops; book launches; pitching sessions; a dealer room; and opportunities to hang out with like-minded people (some of whom happen to be authors with varying degrees of fame). A few people do cosplay, which is always fun.

The reason I’m able to handle conferences when I can barely handle dropping my kids at school is simple: adrenaline. I’m generally moderately with it as long as I feel like I’m performing.

In 2014 TJ was a teensy baby and I had a sudden thought: I hadn’t finished a full original novel since Louisette was born in 2012. Had I lost the knack?

At around the same time I noticed there were five possible pitching sessions at Conflux: A large publisher, three smaller publishers, and an agent. I decided to pitch to every single one with a different book. That meant writing a brand new book in a couple of months (which I pitched to the agent, so I had time to edit it before any publishers saw it). That book is “Flight of Fancy.”

Satalyte accepted my pirate young adult fantasy novel “Stormhunter”. For various reasons it hasn’t been published yet, but it’s going to be published eventually. I love doing pitching sessions with publishers, because they’re always nice people and they like meeting authors.

In 2015 I pitched “Flight of Fancy” and “Heart of Brass”. Odyssey Books ultimately accepted “Heart of Brass”, which meant that this year I FINALLY had a book to actually sell to people!


This year at Conflux I ran an interactive fiction workshop (lots of writers attend the conference every year), assisted with several panels (especially the steampunk ones), actually attended one session (very rare for me, since I get sore sitting in chairs without masses of adrenaline helping me out), and spent hours hanging out in the dealer room (mostly on the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG) table rather than the Odyssey table, because there were four other Odyssey people there and it was crowded). The familiar tension of, “Why am I talking on a panel when I don’t even have a novel published?” was gone (it’s worth pointing out that I haven’t gotten any smarter or more interesting than last year – panellists should be readers, but their writing life is almost always irrelevant), and I enjoyed the new tension of, “I’m absolutely trying to sell my book here”.

Our family car died suddenly the day before Conflux, so travel was complicated (especially with the uncharacteristically vicious weather), which complicated matters. My interview on interactive fiction at the local ABC 666 radio station was an unexpected bonus.

It was definitely fun chilling out with friends (Odyssey, Satalyte, CSFG, and others) and I think I recognised about 60% of the people. Conflux is my “home” conference, and the CSFG (which runs it) is a truly excellent group of people.

I enjoyed taking stupid pictures of my book, too.


This year people walked past the bar/restaurant on the way to the conference, so there was plenty of hanging out over food/drinks which was really excellent too.

This Saturday I’ll be at the Book Expo in Parramatta (Sydney), which I’ve never been to before. It’ll be interesting to see what it’s like!

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Filed under Daily Awesomeness, Steampunk Australia Stories, STORMHUNTER novel, Writing Ranting

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:


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 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?)



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).

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:


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.

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Filed under Articles by other bloggers, Articles by others, Beginners, Interactive Fiction, Writing Advice

Tick Tock


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The mechanical spider was built by Justin Gershenson-Gates at A Mechanical Mind. The image was used with permission (Image 2 is filtered).


I’m figuring out images for my newest interactive story, “Stuff and Nonsense”. Images are easier if they’re linked to a url. So this entry will continue having pics added.

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September 23, 2016 · 12:13

“Stuff and Nonsense” cover




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:




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


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Filed under Daily Awesomeness, Interactive Fiction, Steampunk, Steampunk Australia Stories

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!

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Filed under Advanced/Publication, Articles by others, Beginners, Daily Awesomeness, Writing Advice

Adventures in Melbourne

Last Friday morning I flew to Melbourne, meeting my Tin Man Games workmates in 3-D for the first time. I flew home Saturday night.

On Saturday I ran a social meet-up before the Participatory Storytelling Panel at the Brimbank Writers and Readers Festival.


I’ve been wanting to go to Melbourne for a while, and it was the Participatory Storytelling Panel that gave me the excuse I needed (thank you to Phil Minchin, on the left in the above photo, for all the hard work you do—and for this panel in particular).

I also took the opportunity to deliver 35 copies of “Heart of Brass” to a whole bunch of bookshops, starting at Dymocks Watergardens and including Dymocks Geelong, Geelong Market Square, Knox, Prahran, Southlands, Camberwell, and Doncaster, as well as Andrew’s Book Store (Ivanhoe).

The Watergardens books are signed.


How was Melbourne?

Rainy. It rained all day Friday, and loomed all day Saturday. I spotted small patches of blue sky after the panel was finished (as I was on my way to the airport). It was raining again by the time my plane boarded. (Do I even need to mention that every second person I saw told me how stunning and downright summery the weather had been just before I arrived?)

I really enjoyed the way so many of Melbourne’s central buildings were highlighted in brilliant colour, looking bright and beautiful even in the Melbourney weather. The buildings also worked incredibly hard to be any shape but rectangular. Some created optical illusions with paint. Some were actually curved. Others had random geometric shapes sticking out. The great thing about all the crazy colours and shapes was that they made excellent combinations when viewed from a range of different angles. You’ll have to take my word for it, because I didn’t take a camera (with over 40 books in my suitcase, I was keen to cut down on luggage).

Someone on a bus gave me their seat, presumably believing I was pregnant (absolutely worth it, for once). On another occasion two men got into a punch-up while I sat waiting for a taxi outside a shopping centre. It was terribly exotic, but not exactly a great advertisement for Melbourne.

How was travelling?

I was super, super excited about staying in a hotel. A clean room, AND a room I didn’t have to clean after myself or anyone else? A whole night without anyone screaming at and/or near me? A bed with only my own limbs to injure myself on? Waking up to the sweet tones of my phone alarm instead of spending the first ten seconds of my day immediately dealing with more urine and more screaming? Walking to the bathroom without noticing ten things I should probably fix/clean/move along the way?

Food delivered to my room, where I could eat in bed and watch TV, all without interruptions AND in my PJs??

I stayed in a hotel without room service (WHY EVEN BOTHER TRAVELLING?), that was so small I kept bumping into the walls. But it had a TV and a bed and an ensuite, and that was awesome. And I didn’t hear any screaming, and no one peed on me. So that was special.

Melbourne trains don’t go to the airport, which is stupid. Getting to and from airports is often surprisingly complex, so I picked a hotel with a shuttle bus—which turned out to mean catching the skybus from the airport followed by a “loop” bus that goes to a list of hotels. It wasn’t a fast or pleasant process, but it did eventually get me there. I left home at 7am for an 8:30-9:30am flight, and arrived at the hotel around 12. After five hours of travelling I was pretty tired, but I prettied myself up as much as possible in a short time and took out my home-printed google maps to make sure I got to the Tin Man Games office, SMSing as I left the hotel to let them know I was close by.

And so it was that I walked half an hour through steady rain to the place Tin Man Games used to be located, many years ago. I was exhausted, sore, sweaty, and in precisely the wrong direction.

From there I caught a taxi, and reevaluated my abilities—both physical and mental. Everyone does dumb things sometimes, but that was me at my best. I prepared for weeks. I was careful. I had backup plans.

I missed so many things, and made so many mistakes along the way… and I’m going to keep making bizarrely obvious mistakes for at least another couple of years (while my brain recovers from a long period of daily migraines). The simple fact is that I’m not mentally or physically capable of basic functionality outside of my own carefully-constructed routine.

From then on I didn’t really travel alone. People looked after me at various points, and the rest of the time I relied on taxis. Taxis are stupidly expensive, and they often don’t come when/where you need them most. I can’t rely on them to help me.

So I need to have a serious think about whether I can do that sort of thing—independent interstate travel—ever again.

On the other hand, although I’m a bit stiff and sore, I’m incredibly refreshed and optimistic. There’s something about travelling that refreshes me from the inside out. So I need to think about that too.


I very much enjoyed hanging out with my Tin Man Games people. They really are exactly as smart and funny and chilled-out in real life as they are on skype. The up side of networking is that people in the same creative industries as me are often really fun to talk to. We actually ran into a few other people at lunch, which was a nice bonus.

The official IF meetup was small but high-quality, with exactly one person representing almost every single facet of my interactive fiction life: a young adult fantasy author, a Choice of Games writer, a Tin Man Games writer/programmer, the organiser of the Participatory Storytelling Panel, and a coupla randoms. Most of us went to the panel too.

I had thought the panel would feel long, at 1.5 hours, but it didn’t. Each one of us could have easily talked the entire time, because we love our subject manner and spend a large chunk of our waking hours thinking about it. It may well have been the best panel I’ve ever been on. The audience was cool too—smart and thoughtful and involved.

Professionally, the trip was a raging success. I also had a great time in between the travelling parts.

The gentlemen pictured are Wade Dyer, inventor of the tabletop role-playing universe  Fragged Empire, and Phill Krins, who is one of the organisers of the spectacular Swordcraft live-action games.


I hope someday we meet again.



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Well, it happened. Louisette told me she wanted to be a writer when she grew up.

Being a writer is a terrible idea! My dream for my kids is for them to have steady, 9-5ish jobs with sick leave and annual leave and a pay rise every year. I want them to be healthy and sane. In short, I want them to have everything I never will.

“That’s wonderful!” I said to my sweet innocent child. “And you know what’s great about writing? You can do it AND have another job at the same time!”

Ah, parenting. Finding that magical place between, “Follow your dreams” and “Do your homework.”


That’s Louisette hugging a dinosaur.

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Filed under Love and CJ