Deadlines

I love deadlines.

That’s not sarcasm. The writing life consists largely of sitting alone in a room (or worse, sitting in the same room as young kids who I desperately hope are sufficiently distracted by the blaring TV) scowling at a screen as I invent worlds and people that absolutely no-one cares about except myself. Deadlines give me a sense of urgency and excitement that is sometimes sorely lacking. When a deadline is approaching I feel stressed, but (unless something else comes up and sends me hurtling over the edge) it also gives the sense that someone is waiting for that piece of writing – and that it matters.

Whether writing “matters” or not is a can of snakes that I won’t get into today. But, I do like deadlines.

At the moment I have four and a half deadlines coming up in the next month. Wheeeee!

One is for a novel submission that I promised someone I’d send in September (ish); two are for interactive fiction contests that are ending soon; and the other one and a half are for collaborative interactive fiction pieces (one of which I’m running, and the other of which I’m mostly acting as cheerleader while also writing a significant section).

Before I stumbled across the glorious cornucopia of interactive fiction (think “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories but better), I was going to make 2015 the year that I wrote a novel slowly. It would be an experiment in writing against my usual nature, and perhaps discovering that my writing was much better if I was less manic about it. Then I found interactive fiction, and by the end of September my total IF word count will be around the 150,000 mark (two large pieces, two medium, and two collaborations). So I’m not exactly writing slowly, particularly since that’s roughly three times my usual annual output.

A funny side effect happened due to the fact that when Choice of Games – absolutely my favourite IF engine and company (and they pay well too) – is considering taking on a project for its premier label, they require a detailed outline first. Those outlines always run over 5000 words, including loads of choices and their consequences. To put that in perspective, the last book I wrote was based on a story told to me by my then 2-year old. I did some googling, scrawled a map and a chapter outline (maybe 200 words) and was writing the book within three days. I finished it a few weeks later.

But the interactive piece I’m working on most at the moment – a fantastical pirate adventure called SCARLET SAILS – has a proper Choice of Games outline. And because I was waiting to hear back about a different project, I had to let it sit for a long time – which also meant I could discuss the basic plot with some intelligent people and discover major plot issues BEFORE I’d written a 50,000-word novel. So interactive fiction distracted me from slow writing, then brought me back to it.

The other interesting side effect of IF is that suddenly I’m collaborating. I’ve done that exactly once before, when I wrote a one-page play in high school. It barely counts as collaborating, since my (undying, I’m sure) prose wasn’t edited in any way except by the nature of performance. (I do remember one friend saying, “So I’m playing God? Mm’kay.” which was most definitely a positive comment on my casting choices.) I write because I LIKE sitting alone in a room inventing worlds and people out of nothing… and I like being the international expert and ultimate authority on every single aspect of my work. Like my actor friend, what I really want is God-like powers and unquestioning obedience.

But I also love a deadline. (I may have mentioned that.) So when someone on the IF forums at Choice of Games suggested some kind of game-writing jam, I leapt at the chance. I specifically said that I thought collaborations were a bad idea, and so naturally a few days after that I volunteered to lead what ended up being a cheesy 50s-style space adventure collaboration (and then someone asked me to whip their multi-genre bookshop collaboration into shape, and I gleefully did so).

And it is so. much. fun. It helps that everyone involved seems to have figured out that I will work very very hard to earn ultimate power, and so they say things like, “Go ahead and edit my bit however you like” which I’m pretty sure means I just became a benevolent dictator (and I LOVE it).

I will of course post an easy-to-play link here when the game is ready. It’s turning out surprisingly well (and the editor is fantastic). But here’s the front cover just to tease you.

dashpic

Credit for the space background: http://palnk.deviantart.com

Interactive Fiction: My Shiny New Obsession

If you’ve set eyes on me for more than thirty seconds at any point this year, you know all about my shiny new obsession: interactive fiction. It’s the digital form of “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels.

As of seven minutes ago, my first publicly-available interactive fiction story is live (and also free… for now) right here – scroll down to the bottom of the linked page and click on this:

 

DownTheWombatHole

You don’t need anything more specialised than a computer, and you’ll read the book within a Firefox browser.

This particular story (which takes about twenty minutes to read) is about what happens when a two perpetual students fall through a portal into the magical, tropical world of Rahana. It’s a place where a pregnant queen’s island is under siege, and where a handshake can kill.

You, dear reader, are one of those perpetual students. You choose whether you’re male or female, happily single or crushing on your best friend (who just happens to fall through the portal with you – you also choose their gender). You decide whether you’re a natural fighter or a master manipulator; a doctor or a jack of all trades. When the battle begins, you can choose to kill or heal, to strategise or inspire. Even if you’re completely useless as a character, you get a good story out of it – and you can be someone completely different the next time you read it, too.

How does it work?

Funny you should ask.

As a player, it’s a simple matter of clicking your mouse (or in some cases your finger, since most interactive fiction can be read on smart phones) on the choice that looks best to you, then on the “Next” button to go to the next page. Your choices make a difference in various ways. Usually, choices change your statistics (for better or worse) – recording your personal traits, your relationships with others, and the skill/s you practise along the way. Later on in the game, those choices change your ability to succeed or fail in certain endeavours. You can check up on your stats along the way (there’s a button at the top of the screen), or ignore them and choose with your heart every time (that’s what I do, especially on the first read-through). I also like having “Achievements” listed as a tantalising hint of some of the story’s possibilities. There’s a button for achievements, too, but it’s not possible to gain all of them in a single play-through.

I really like the American company Choice of Games (yes, that’s why my spelling is suddenly non-patriotic) because they’re fun, non-graphic, and determined not to discriminate. In their games, it’s always possible (when relevant) to pick both your gender and orientation.

The lack of strong female characters in fiction magically disappears when a player chooses his/her own gender – and I love that!

So, that’s a lightning-fast preview of the big news I’ve been hinting at all year. “Down the Wombat Hole” isn’t even my first interactive novel…. but the details of the others will have to wait for another post! Let’s just say my days of steampunk and piracy are just beginning.

Oh, and by the way? It just so happens that “Down the Wombat Hole” is set in the same world as my print novel (coming out in 2016) “Stormhunter”. So if you’ve ever read a fantasy book and wished with all your heart you could visit it yourself, now is your chance.

Edited to add: “Down the Wombat Hole” is now part of a full-length collaborative game called LOST IN THE PAGES (with the new chapter title THE QUEEN’S CHILD, and no wombat).

And the small press Satalyte that was going to publish STORMHUNTER has stopped running, but Odyssey Books has just (as of October 2017) taken on the middle-grade pirate trilogy set in the same world, which suggests STORMHUNTER will sail again (it’s young adult, and set hundreds of years after the middle-grade trilogy, so it makes sense to publish the middle-grade trilogy first).

Where do your ideas come from?

Any writer will tell you – everywhere.

In 2015 I plan to write slowly – that is, to drastically alter my usual style (I generally finish a book within a month – whether writing for NaNoWriMo or not).

Now that I’ve finished another draft of “Flight of Fancy” (inspired by my daughter’s first fictional story – I literally took her few sentences and made them into a novel) I’m raring to go.

I’m going to STOP and prepare for at least two months, including research and a detailed outline. But I’ve been waiting for inspiration to strike and haven’t had anything to research yet.

The first “hit” was when I was re-watching this video: http://vimeo.com/111547854

I had the idea of having a blind girl nick-named “Cat” because she loves to bask in sunshine. A while ago I read a sad true story of a mum who badly burned her child with spilled coffee because she’d been awake over 24 hours (hence the coffee) and when you’re that tired accidents happen. Although it was clearly not her fault, she had never forgiven herself. I’m fascinated by stories of redemption, so I thought I’d write about Cat’s mother after she’d accidentally blinded her child. I’m also fascinated by blindness, but I try not to write too many blind characters (I have several) because I write in first person and it’s beyond my skill to describe things really well for sighted readers without using visual detail. (Reflecting on my actual capabilities is a definite plus of slow writing – I can spot fatal flaws before the first word is written, and then change them before it’s too late.) So I looked into recovery from blindness. It’s amazing scientifically (http://discovermagazine.com/galleries/zen-photo/b/blindness) and socially (http://io9.com/the-world-that-only-formerly-blind-people-can-see-476400679).

I wondered at this point if I was writing a book for adults, since I could definitely write as a guilt-ridden Mum (writing for adults is unusual for me. . . apart from anything else, the length is quite different and I’m not sure I have a good sense of either the rhythm or the market) and/or something set entirely in the real world (without any fantasy elements).

Neither seemed like a good idea for me (plus it seemed too dark and sad for my liking), so I decided the blindness and recovery had a magical basis. I knew Cat was grateful for her blindness – partly because it changed who she hung out with, but also because it enriched her life in some other way too. I decided that her recovery would be something she kept a secret, in order to appear more mystically impressive than she was (“Wow! It’s like she’s not even blind at all!”) So Cat became a sorceress – a cheerful, smart, sorceress with a flair for drama that could easily make her very powerful.

I still didn’t feel confident about writing as a blind person, even a fake blind person, so I figured (and still figure) Cat would be friends with my hero. . . whoever she is. (Yes, “she”. I’m a girl, which is one good reason, and the world needs more female heroes, which is another.)

I left my complete lack of a main character on the back burner while I thought about the setting. Having a sorceress immediately feels like a quasi-medieval story. There are WAY too many of those – plus, to do a decent job I’d need to do a scary amount of research (and it would still feel incredibly derivative, because there’s just too much quasi-medieval stuff out there – including “Flight of Fancy” although that world is more “fairyland” than regular medieval). It would confuse me utterly to do another steampunk world. So as I was thinking about where to start I decided it should be something future-y. NOT something all computer-y, because I find that very dull. Some other kind of future – something new and interesting and different.

Last night I read Psalm 95, including this bit:

For the Lord is the great God,
    the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
    and the mountain peaks belong to him. (NIV)

I finished reading and lay down to go to sleep, but I felt something in the back of my mind telling me I’d missed some vital hook. I got up and re-read it, and the line about “depths of the earth” inspired the idea of enormous epic underground tunnel systems (with windows in the top so Cat had her sunshine). I liked that, and thought about it some more – what would make humanity move underground? Since dirt is a brilliant insulator, I figured it was heat. Australia is the driest continent – more desert than not – so that made sense.

In my thoughts of the future, I’d forgotten about the obvious – global warming. In itself, global warming is a cliché – but it all depends how its handled (for one thing, it’d be nice if it WASN’T post-apocalyptic. . . just different). I figured tunnelling underground was one way to cope with major temperature change. Another was reclaiming land like in Holland or Hong Kong. Another was to adjust existing dwellings – sealing gaps, designing ventilation shafts – which would be delightfully ad hoc – or build new dwellings designed to stay on the sea floor. Still another was to have floating cities – which could be so beautiful, especially if glass and/or spheres were liberally used (to utilise solar power? To float more easily? As a suspension system to deal with wild waves and weather?) And some people would try hard to stay on land – just moving higher and higher up the nearest mountain (which would get easier to live on as it grew warmer).

I’d read something somewhere about buildings deliberately designed to float, and I know there are islands already getting taken over by the sea – plus I’ve seen Hong Kong’s man-made land extension for myself. I had a huge and fascinating place to start my research – laying in magic where I found it best.

I came up with the idea that medieval-style magic really existed in the Middle Ages, and something triggered its return. Don’t know what yet, especially since when we talk “medieval” we’re really talking about Great Britain – and I want to think on a more global scale.

There will of course be major issues with food and water (water might be easy – our ocean is salty because of minerals getting left in there during normal rain cycles. If we melted Antarctica, it would be diluted and might even become drinkable, or close to it), so I’d need to think hard about that too.

I believe human nature is fundamentally stupid in a lot of ways. Here in Australia one government put into place an unpopular “carbon tax”. It was a brave and necessary thing to do. Then the government switched sides, and the new lot threw it out. Arg!

So it will take a LOT before we change the habits that are causing us to head towards potential global crisis environment-wise (I’m writing on my laptop with the AC on, for example). But I think humans also have amazing ingenuity, and when bad stuff DOES happen, we will most likely come up with new ways to deal with it. A lot of those new ways have already been thought of, on the fringes of engineering and science. I’ll look into it and see what makes the best story. I really liked the film “Waterworld” so I’ll have to keep an eye on myself to make sure I’m not stealing from that.

And then there’s the social side of this new world, which will be huge.

Regular readers will know how appalled I am at Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Unfortunately human history shows that people are generally awful towards refugees (with many beautiful exceptions – including modern-day Germany). . . and if the world changes drastically, refugees will definitely suffer for it.

The likely place for them is on floating cities – literally drifting without a place to call home, and from which they can be rejected from every corner of the globe (while possibly also being the cutting-edge of scientific stuff, due to travel and personal experience). But it occurred to me that if certain weather events trigger major change (I’ve heard of global warming “tipping points” where gradual change becomes sudden change in a heartbeat), a floating city might suddenly be the only form of sustainable life – in which case the refugees would suddenly be the ones with beggars at their door (and they might or might not let them in).

So that’s likely to be some kind of climax, in a world where there is already major tension from both the environment and between the different groups. And something going on for my myserious heroine, too.

I think Cat’s real name will be “Cassandra” and she’ll be the one who first “sees” the next tipping point coming. But she’ll still be a cheerful, relaxed sort of person.

Feel free to help with my research by directing me to theories about what will happen to the Earth physically (and when), and what kind of food/water/housing solutions people are talking about/inventing so far.