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.

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

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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.

 

 

Shiver Me Timbers!

I said I had big news. This is it.

My middle grade (age 9-14ish) trilogy, all about fantastical pirates and monsters, has just been officially accepted for publication by Odyssey Books.

The first book is called THE MONSTER APPRENTICE, and will be launched in February 2018 (in time for Goulburn ComiCon).

It’s set in a fantasy world called “Rahana” which I invented seventeen years ago. It’s like Narnia, with pirates.

I wrote the first draft of THE MONSTER APPRENTICE in a New Zealand backpacker in Christchurch when I was twenty-two. I know exactly how old I was because I had just scraped into the upper age bracket for the Young Endeavour Sail Training Vessel (doing writerly research for STORMHUNTER).

I’m thirty-five now, but this is a pic of me at twenty-two on board the Young Endeavour, with New Zealand in the background. The character of Captain Sol in the story was inspired by the tales told by one of the navy staff on the boat (taken and altered with her permission).

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Oh, how I love research!

So it turns out Louisette’s pirate outfit last weekend was extremely appropriate.

People who’ve known me a long, LONG time will know that STORMHUNTER, the first book in my young adult magical pirate trilogy (also Rahana), was accepted for publication a while ago, but that particular publisher isn’t running any more. The story is here and here.

This is the closest I get to non-fictional piracy these days:

Boat

Arrrr!

I really haven’t changed all that much after all.

I’ll start reading THE MONSTER APPRENTICE aloud to Louisette this evening. (Finally, a book of my own I can read to her!) Five year-olds are a tough crowd, so I expect I’ll be doing some more editing based on her reactions.

If you can’t wait until February, I have a definitely-not-suitable-for-children pirate game called SCARLET SAILS already on sale (and the beginning is free) here. Or you can search for “Scarlet Sails Hosted Games” on your favourite app store.

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List of all my Interactive Fiction

I make most of my writing income from interactive fiction. (As soon as I say “writing income” out loud, my fellow authors want to know more.)

Most people who find me via my blog know me as a novelist, so I’ll pitch this entry as if you’re hearing about modern IF (interactive fiction) for the first time.

It’s a lot like those ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books from the 80s, which would give readers a choice every few pages. Some ‘Goosebumps’ stories also let readers steer the story. The main difference is that almost all modern IF is released as a digital app. Not only is it outrageously popular (everyone loves an app), but the digital format gives it an amazing potential for more subtle, personal choices such as gender, sexuality, and even the main character’s name.

Almost all of my interactive fiction is listed under my name on the Interactive Fiction Database. That’s a great place to find reviews and ratings.

If you’re attempting to read every steampunk tale I’ve written in a logical order, there’s a reading guide here. Everything steampunk in this list is underlined.

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Cover image provided by Michael Estrada, with permission.

After the Flag Fell is a nice gentle way to get into modern IF, mostly because it’s so old-school that you can literally print it out. It’s also short, and free. (I edited it a little after it won the Windhammer Contest, and tacked it onto the HEART OF BRASS novel.) You can read it online here. Be warned, though, that there are spoilers if you haven’t read the novel. It’s a fascinating tale based on the true history of the real-life Peter Lalor.

Escape From the Female Factory is even more user-friendly than “After the Flag Fell”, since it has no statistics or inventory at all. It is also a printable short story, since I wrote it especially to go with the SILVER AND STONE novel. I planned to convert it into Twine and enter it in the 2017 IF Comp, but I ran out of time. I may expand and digitalise it some day. There are spoilers if you haven’t read the novel. It’s a story that branches with every choice, and gives you many many many tragic endings—and two good ones. You play a suffragette in a women’s prison trying to stay alive, keep your friends alive, and gain your freedom.

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Scarlet Sails is a Hosted Game (hosted by Choice of Games, but not under their premier label) that can be read on your browser or virtually any device. It placed seventh in the IF Comp 2015, and that version is free to read on your browser here. I wrote a lot more before publishing it here (click through to see all the different formats). It is a pirate game filled with violence, drinking, mutineers, and monsters. You can choose to embrace or defy the pirate lifestyle in a variety of ways.

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Choices That Matter is a serial story app released by Tin Man Games. I came on board as co-writer on Arc 4 of “And The Sun Went Out” (with Alyce Potter and KG Tan; KG is also the project head and final line of editing), wrote “And Their Souls Were Eaten“, and I’m editing “And Their Heroes Were Lost” (written by Phill Berrie, who edited “Souls”), which will be completed in 2018. Google Play and iOS have different payment systems; on Google Play you can earn “choice tickets” by watching ads, and avoid payment altogether. But it takes a long time.

And the Sun Went Out” is a near-future scifi in which the sun vanished for three hours and then reappeared. Scientists around the world are getting murdered, and it’s your job to try and find out whether the sun is back for good… or not so much. You are also educating Moti, an AI character that looks like a smart watch (and if you have an apple watch, you can choose to have Moti ‘speak’ to you through the watch).

“And Their Souls Were Eaten” is my longest and most popular story. It’s steampunk fantasy set in 1837 Europe. You’ve spent years living a solitary life, avoiding both your costly magical destiny and the horrifyingly intelligent albino bear that is stalking your family and has already killed your sister. But your quiet life is over, and it’s up to you what you do next.

And Their Heroes Were Lost” is a scifi tale that I can’t say too much about. You wake up in what people call ‘Camp Amnesia”, unable to remember anything about yourself—even your own name. It soon becomes clear that there’s a reason you and the others are separated from the other prisoners.

Attack of the Clockwork Army is the first ChoiceScript story I ever wrote. I remain proud of the ‘fatal flaw’ innovation, and the epilogue. It’s steampunk fantasy set mainly in Australia. Your long-dead sister is alive and asking you to come to Australia, where tensions are running high between the British and the colonials. It soon becomes clear that you’re about to land right in the middle of the war for a nation… but who will you fight for?

Stuff and Nonsense was originally written as a live-action roleplaying game (similar to those ‘Murder Mystery Dinner’ board games). I converted it to Twine and added a bunch of pictures (and, be warned, some abrupt music at the end). It’s very silly, and is best enjoyed as a side trip away from the other steampunk tales. You’re part of a band of colonial rebels visiting an Australian Grand Exhibition, and Queen Victoria herself is set to visit.

Starship Adventures (here) and Lost in the Pages (here) are both games I wrote with other people. They’re both Hosted Games, so you can click through to read them on your browser or see the wide variety of app stores where they’re available.

“Starship Adventures” is a retro scifi space adventure complete with carnivorous plants, strategically-ripped uniforms, and (if you like) a floral unitard for you to do your heroics in.

“Lost in the Pages” is a book-portal story. You travel through a range of very different stories trying to rescue your eccentric Uncle Irwin from a malevolent force.

Home/Sick was edited and used in the collaborative game Lost in the Pages. I think there’s an early version of it via here, that was written in three hours for a contest.

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Enchanted (here, and free I think) is a story told entirely through SMSes (including a soundtrack I rather like, and many images). Warning: Time delays are part of the story! I’ve lost track of how people are actually able to play it. Kik messenger is best, facebook seemed clumsy to me, and there may be other places. If you figure it out, let me know.

If you play it, you need to pick one romantic interest and stick with it, or the story won’t make sense. You’re a young adult in a small town in which there are vampires, witches, and were-creatures. They all get alone fine… sorta. Along the way you’ll find out what kind of creature you are, who loves you, and some of the many dangers lurking in your peaceful magical backwater.

Counting Spoons (free here) is a game about a day in the life of a mentally & physically ill person. It needs an edit but I’m scared to re-read it because of the topic (thinking about depression makes me depressed, which is why it’s short). It was originally written for the Noted festival 2016.

Antipodean Queen 2: SILVER AND STONE

SILVER AND STONE is the middle book of my Australian steampunk fantasy trilogy, which began with HEART OF BRASS and will end in 2018.

The trailer is here (it includes a fast-and-dirty explanation of steampunk and features my daughter).

Silver and Stone cover

Like to read the back cover? Here it is:


Getting into prison is easy.
Getting out is hard.
Getting away is nearly impossible.
Getting the power to control your own destiny might cost everything you have.

Emmeline, Matilda, and Patrick are sworn to rescue Patrick’s mother from the infamous Female Factory prison, but when a vengeful police officer tracks down their hideout, things get worse fast.

Soon they’re framed for a double murder and fighting a magical monster in the eerie and unfamiliar island of Tasmania. Patrick’s mother hides crucial papers in a tin under her prison smock, and her best friend Fei Fei is dying in the overcrowded prison.

More than one woman’s life hangs in the balance.


You can order it via Odyssey Books or Amazon US, or Barnes & Noble, or IndieBound, or Amazon Australia. It’s also for sale through Kobo, Abe Books, and The Book Depository.

As a rule, it’s easier to search for “Felicity Banks” than “Silver and Stone”.

The ISBN is 978-1-925652-20-8 (pbk) | 978-1-925652-2-15 (ebook)

You can use that number to quickly and easily order it into any bookshop you like. Most Australian bookshops and libraries should stock it already. If you’re in Canberra, Harry Hartog’s in Woden does a good job of keeping my books in stock.

SILVER AND STONE can always be bought in physical form directly through the publisher (who will post it to you—Odyssey is linked to printers in Australia, the US, and the UK, so if you’re in one of those nations the postage cost will be domestic).

It is extremely helpful to me for readers to leave reviews at Amazon and/or Goodreads. The more you say why you like/dislike it, the more other readers will know if it suits them or not. I do read reviews but I’m not bothered by negative ones (sometimes I even learn something), so go ahead and be honest!

Like a sample?


CHAPTER ONE

I don’t deliberately make things explode.

Patrick O’Connell stomped on the trap door above my head. Bang, bang, bang.

Three bangs was Patrick’s signal for ‘May I come in?’ He was quite well-mannered for a bushranger―or perhaps by now he’d simply walked in on Matilda and I kissing one too many times. I grabbed my six-foot iron poking stick and tapped the three bangs back to him through the ceiling to indicate he was welcome to enter.

The trap door creaked open and Patrick looked down at me, shaking his head like a disappointed parent. ‘How do you expect me to get the grease out of that dress?’

I looked down and noticed that my apron had, as usual, failed to protect my clothing. There were several spots of oil here and there, as well as dust and soot and tiny burn marks from my magically altered and occasionally self-combusting rats.

‘I don’t expect you to get the grease out,’ I said. ‘We’ll buy a new one next time we go to town.’

He grunted in reply and descended the ladder to pass me a tin mug of black tea. I tasted it, noting there was plenty of honey, just the way I liked it. So he wasn’t truly cross after all, just anxious. Patrick had good reason to be tense, given his mother’s location. He cast a glance over my desk, which lined the entire underground room on four sides. I resisted the urge to hide certain diagrams. It wouldn’t have done any good, since I’d already made several models and was experimenting to see whether the effects of magical metal scaled consistently between miniature and life-size machines.

I had to get it right―for Patrick more than anyone. His mother was a suffragette trapped in Tasmania’s ‘Female Factory’ prison, and we were going to get her out. All I had to do was figure out how to extract Mrs O’Connell without getting us all killed.

Patrick moved closer to the largest of my models: a steel train engine featuring twenty segmented metal legs designed to compensate for difficult terrain and/or a lack of railway tracks. The black silk balloon linked to the train’s roof was potentially useful to reduce the train’s weight and perhaps even harvest the heated air from the engine―but that was assuming Patrick let me cannibalise his precious hot air balloon for a radical new method of travel. From what I’d heard, Tasmania was much more inclined to dramatic vistas than was entirely convenient.

‘Are you sure it’s safe?’ he asked, rubbing his hands through his hair and making it stick up like straw. He chose not to say aloud what we were both thinking: There was little point in rescuing Shauna O’Connell only to burst into flames immediately afterward.

‘Not yet,’ I said stiffly. ‘I’m pushing the boundaries of what is possible.’

‘Hmm.’ He eyed the largest of the craters in the wall and rubbed the gunpowder burn on his cheek.

‘Would you like to see the train working?’ I asked, popping my goggles over my eyes in preparation.

‘Err. . . maybe when it’s ready for an open-air display,’ he said, and went back toward the trap door just as someone else stomped on it three times. Bang, bang, bang.

Patrick waited as Matilda descended, then he went back up the ladder into his father’s house.

Matilda examined me with a proprietary air. ‘You look unusually tidy today, but never fear―that’s easily fixed.’

She removed the pins from my hair one by one, and my red curls tumbled over my shoulders and just touched the top of my brass corset. I wore magical brass when I wanted its help to notice the most elusive details of my experiments, but sometimes it just made me notice Matilda more forcefully than ever. Matilda and I had both been working hard, knowing all the while that every delay meant another day of misery for Mrs O’Connell. Now that she was close my corset heated up, making me flush, and then deliberately opened all my senses to the woman I loved. Brass can be impertinent, and I wasn’t strong enough to resist the temptation to be distracted.

Matilda smelled of smoke and eucalyptus from her time spent burning off the nearby forest: a delicious mixture of our temporary outback home all tangled up with elemental fire. And she smelled of her own unique spice, making me want to lean forward and inhale until I swooned. Her coppery-brown eyes shone in the lantern-light, ready to laugh. Her lips parted. Her breath quickened. . .

I kissed her, and forgot I was holding a square of tin. It binged in emphatic delight, and I dropped it, hoping to defuse its magical enthusiasm. That wouldn’t have been a problem, except it landed on one of my rats, who immediately combusted in surprise, burning yet another large hole in the wooden floor. The tin parped in distress and Matilda stepped back. Her heel caught in the new crater.

She fell backward with a shriek, and I instinctively dived forward to catch her. As we both tumbled to the ground, I grabbed for something to hold on to. My hand hit the wooden strut holding up the opposite side of my workbench. The strut snapped in two, and the back half of the bench creaked alarmingly. I rolled off Matilda and crouched under the desk, bracing it with my hands and shoulders.

Matilda sat up, twisting around to face me. ‘Emmeline! Are you all right?’

‘Are you?’

‘Why are you holding up the table?’

‘So it doesn’t fall down.’

‘Ah.’ She stood and hastily moved objects from the collapsing bench onto the sections of the work table that were still secure.

‘It really is quite heavy,’ I said through gritted teeth.

Matilda moved faster, grabbing models and papers and cogs and jars and pliers at top speed. It wasn’t fast enough.

‘Poking stick,’ I said.

‘Now is hardly the time.’

‘Use the big iron stick to hold up the table. It’s strong, but it needs to be cut down to size.’

She grabbed the length of iron and laid it across two of the solid workbenches, making a triangle shape. There was an axe hanging on the wall so she grabbed it and hit the poking stick hard. It was no use. She cast the useless axe aside. Her frantic gaze landed on my rats.

‘Matilda, no!’ Just because the rats recovered quickly from deaths in the family didn’t mean they should be exploded willy-nilly.

She didn’t listen. She grabbed a rat and some string, and tied the innocent creature to the midpoint of the iron rod before grabbing the axe once more and crouching to meet the rat eye to eye. ‘Burn through that metal, or I’ll cut off your tail.’

The rat squeaked in terror and exploded outright, snapping the iron bar and casting a fine spray of blood, fur, and mechanical parts onto the nearby walls and floor. Matilda grabbed the remains of the poking stick and jammed both halves under my bench.

I slid out gratefully and rubbed my aching shoulders. ‘You killed my rat, but you did it in such a timely manner I can’t complain. Are you sure you don’t want to officially become my lovely assistant?’

‘Absolutely not,’ she said. ‘Although I confess I understand your penchant for explosions a little better now. That was fun.’

‘I don’t deliberately make things explode!’

‘What a shame,’ she said. ‘It’s a very attractive quality.’

‘Oh really?’ So this was flirting. I hadn’t had much practice at such things before I was transported to Australia. The other convicts had all known just what to do―I remembered my friend Lizzie with a sigh―but I hadn’t practised when I had the chance. It was a tragic oversight, but Matilda appeared to like me anyway. I leant casually on the workbench and tried to raise an eyebrow.

Crash!

The shored-up workbench collapsed, throwing papers, cogs, inkwells, and screwdrivers every which way. One lens of my goggles blackened with ink, and several small cogs landed and then stuck in the brass frame. Through the other lens I saw my match-tin spring open and several phosphorus matches spill out onto the rough floor, igniting at once.

Unfortunately, I had spilled enough grease over the course of several weeks to thoroughly soak the wooden floor, which promptly caught fire. My skirts were well within range of the flames, and I leapt up onto the more solid part of my workbench at once, laying more or less flat so I didn’t collapse another section. I was all too familiar with the flammability of my crinolines.

Matilda was wearing rational dress―a rather distracting set of trousers―by way of a compromise between dressing like her father’s British notions or her mother’s native ones. She kicked off her heels and used her bare feet to stomp out the fire while I lay helplessly on top of several homemade models designed to combine magic, steam, and silk in order to design a better airship. One of them slipped and drifted to the ground. It didn’t smash onto the floor, but floated gracefully. How marvellous. It worked. I resisted the urge to distract Matilda by pointing out my latest success.

The fire was almost out, and I carefully lowered myself to the ground, trying not to damage any more of my laboratory. Matilda stomped out the last of the fire and I just watched her, guiltily delighted at the sight of her black and blond tresses falling loose around her face.

At last we were safe.

She looked at me and laughed. ‘You were saying?’

‘Something about not exploding things,’ I admitted. ‘To be fair, you did specifically say that you enjoy the occasional fireball.’

‘So I do.’

She slipped her shoes back on, apparently unhurt.

‘Did Patrick ask you when we’ll be ready to rescue Shauna?’ she asked, casting a guilty glance upward, where Patrick and his father were stoking the kitchen engine ready to bake bread for lunch.

‘He’s focusing on safety today,’ I said. ‘He seems so calm, but he’s fetched me seven cups of tea already―and not mentioned Mrs O’Connell once.’

She nodded. We both knew how much Patrick wanted to rescue his mother; a passion matched only by his desire to keep Matilda and I safe from similar harm. Too bad he hadn’t made friends with a pair of girls who would gladly wait at home while he faced all the danger.

I picked up the model that had drifted to the ground. It was little more than a hot air balloon with a propeller and a rubber band to represent a steam engine. With enough magical aluminium, we could neutralise the considerable weight of a steam engine and thus solve one of the greatest problems of airship construction.

The issue of how to fill the varnished silk with air had stymied me until now. ‘What if we hurled ourselves off a cliff?’ I said thoughtfully.

‘Sounds good,’ Matilda said with just the tiniest hint of sarcasm. ‘Can I tell Patrick? His face will make quite the picture.’

Bang.

‘Sounds like you’ll get a chance right now,’ I said.

Bang.

Matilda and I waited in silence for the third stomp on the trapdoor. It never came.

‘Uh-oh,’ said Matilda, dropping her frivolity like an old coat. ‘Two bangs. Isn’t that code for―’

I pressed my fingers to her lips and nodded, mouthing, ‘Our time just ran out.’

She took both my hands in hers and squeezed my fingers until I thought they might snap in two.


The third and final book in the Antipodean Queen Trilogy will be released in 2018 (probably August).

Antipodean Queen 1: HEART OF BRASS

HEART OF BRASS is my first published novel; the beginning of all my (mostly Australian) steampunk fantasy stories.

The book trailer is here.

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Like to read the back cover? Here it is:


Emmeline Muchamore is a well-bred young lady hiding explosive family secrets. She needs to marry well, and quickly, in order to keep her family respectable. But when her brass heart malfunctions, she makes a desperate choice to steal the parts she needs to repair it and survive.

She is unable to explain her actions without revealing she has a steam-powered heart, so she is arrested for theft and transported to Victoria, Australia – right in the midst of the Gold Rush.

Now that she’s escaped the bounds of high society, iron manacles cannot hold her for long.

The only metal that really matters is gold.


 

The ISBN is 978-1-922200-58-7 (pbk) | 978-1-922200-59-4 (ebook)

You can use that number to quickly and easily order it into any bookshop you like. Most Australian bookshops and libraries should stock it already. If you’re in Canberra, Harry Hartog’s in Woden does a good job of keeping it in stock.

HEART OF BRASS can be bought in physical form directly through the publisher (who will post it to you—Odyssey is linked to printers in Australia, the US, and the UK, so if you’re in one of those nations the postage cost will be domestic).

You can also buy either print or digital copies from Amazon US, Amazon Australia (kindle only at the time of writing), Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Abe Books, The Book Depository, etc.

It is extremely helpful to me for readers to leave reviews at Amazon and/or Goodreads. The more you say why you like/dislike it, the more other readers will know if it suits them or not. I do read reviews but I’m not bothered by negative ones (sometimes I even learn something), so go ahead and be honest!

Like a sample?

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Full disclosure: I screenshotted the beginning of my book from Amazon (where there’s a longer sample) because I don’t know how to take the final editing marks out of the copy I have. Sad but true.

Antipodean Queen 2: SILVER AND STONE will be released on October 10 2017 (you can pre-order through OdysseyBooks.com.au) and the third book in the trilogy will be released in 2018 (probably August).

Steampunk Stories

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

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

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

In reading order:

  1. Choices: And Their Souls Were Eaten. An interactive story set in 1837 Europe, originally released as a serial story through the Tin Man Games company’s Choices That Matter app. It is now complete, and will be released on Steam at some point (probably 2017). I like to pretend the player character is Emmeline’s relative, even though the story has a completely unique premise and plot. It is available as an app for iOs or Google Play. The beginning is free.
  2. Antipodean Queen 1: Heart of Brass. A young adult steampunk novel set mainly in 1854 Australia. Emmeline Muchamore’s origin story. You can buy physical copies through Odyssey Books, who will post it anywhere in the world. You can also order it through any bookshop (the ISBN will help you; it’s 978-1-922200-58-7). You can also buy either print or digital copies from Amazon US, Amazon Australia (kindle only at the time of writing), Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Abe Books, The Book Depository, etc. You can read the blurb and beginning here.
  3. After the Flag Fell. A printable interactive story that won the 2015 Windhammer Prize. That version is free here, and an updated version is included with all editions of Heart of Brass. It is set immediately after the events of Heart of Brass.
  4. Antipodean Queen 2: Silver and Stone. The second book of the novel trilogy. Like the first book, it’s available on Amazon US, Kobo, Odyssey, etc, from 10 October 2017 onward. The paperback ISBN is 978-1-925652-20-8. The blurb and beginning are here.
  5. Escape From the Female Factory is a printable short story that happens at the same time as events in Silver and Stone. It should be read after the novel, and is only available as a special feature with the novel.
  6. Stuff and Nonsense is a live-action role-playing game designed for beginners (possible children). It’s a little like those ‘Murder Mystery’ board games, but with actual (silly) games thrown in. The printable version is available by emailing me at fellissimo@hotmail.com with the subject line STUFF AND NONSENSE. I converted it into a Twine game (with images), which is quite different to the original story, and which you can play for free here. It has some very minor spoilers if you read it before the books. Big spoilers if you read it before the role-playing version.
  7. Attack of the Clockwork Army. An interactive story that takes place in the 1860s, mainly in Australia. It allows you to play as one of Emmeline’s siblings if you wish (which will cause spoilers if you haven’t read Heart of Brass) or as an original character in a slightly different and spoiler-free reality. Available here as an app for any device, or it can be read on your browser. Chronologically, it overlaps with the third novel. It uses the ChoiceScript tool.
  8. Antipodean Queen 3 (title undecided). The third novel of the trilogy will be released in 2018.

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

PS Here‘s a great article on the whole field of steampunk novels, including links to many many reviews. It’s highly out of date, but the books are still good!

Conflux 13: Day 3 (& ChoiceScript)

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

Silver and Stone cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s pretty.

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

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

 

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

Thus endeth today’s Conflux Report.

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

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

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

HOW TO WRITE A CHOICE:

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

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 4.36.15 PM

 

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

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

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

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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):

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

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

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

Some structural info:

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

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

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

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

Back to your basic ChoiceScript thing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW TO DO STATS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It will look like this to the player:

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The numerical values will change as the player makes choices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW TO DO GENDER:

In your startup file, write:

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Then have a choice (early on) like this:

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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:

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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.