Tag Archives: fiction

Transition Village III

For the last five weeks, I’ve been managing a ghost town, thanks to a creative support team and some wonderful players.

Once or twice a year, my transmedia, alternate reality game team gears up for a new project. During the weeks leading up to launch, we run Transition Village, a smaller-scale experience designed to keep momentum going.

This is a time-intensive job, mainly for me. Monday through Saturday I write individual responses to between 10 and 20 players each night, giving them (mostly) free rein in a small, “choose-your-own-adventure” world of my creation. During Transition Village seasons, I normally stay up late at night, typing interactive fiction into the wee hours. I don’t get a lot of sleep, but I do have a lot of fun.

Transition Village players are among the most creative, fun-loving people I’ve had the pleasure to communicate with. Most evenings I’m up laughing out loud or just smiling, and I’ll nudge my husband and say, “Look what this traveler sent in! I love it!” The way our players take this world and run with it, developing characters of their own, even submitting their own art and music, never ceases to amaze and thrill me. Transition Village is one of my busiest and happiest times.

In order to engage players who are watching from outside of the village, or players who just want more than one interaction per day, we also offer the Transition Times newspaper. This is a group effort from all members of our team. Each week, every one of us submits a few items to be included in the online paper, and that adds a bit more to the world. Mike does the hilarious horoscopes. Rob does the ghost humor and other related columns. I do the Ghost of the Week and the Traveler Spotlight. Brent does any video elements (plus he’s the voice of Dr. Dark Owl). Necole edits the newspaper (whew!) and contributes an article once in a while.

This past Friday I finished Transition Village III. Yes, that means our next “real” game is right around the corner. My lips are sealed on that one.  😉  (but maybe you can sneak some information from Mike).

After I finished TVIII, I woke up on Saturday and realized I wouldn’t need to plan responses for that night. It was a little weird. I’m able to catch up on my sleep now, but I will miss my little ghost village and my awesome travelers.

Then I looked at the message boards, where players were commenting about the final episode for this season, and I felt an overwhelming amount of appreciation and love. To answer many of your posts, yes, the PMs do read the boards.

🙂  And, thank you, thank you, thank you.  🙂

Today’s blog is my way of doing an informal, post-game… thing. Transition Village, though fairly popular, is really just a transition between larger games, so we don’t normally do an official chat after it ends. If you have questions or comments, you can feel free to post them here – keep in mind that TV is technically an ongoing world, so I can’t give away too much!

Basically, I just want to say thank you (again) to the players and the lurkers. If you didn’t get in this time, don’t worry. There’s a new experience coming soon, and you’ll be sure to have a place there. If you prefer our Transition Village style of game, then hang in there. The Governor will reopen for visitors before too long. He always does.  🙂

Genre Fiction = Trash?

Have you ever met someone who insisted, “I just don’t like to read”? This kind of thing blows my mind. Who doesn’t enjoy a good story once in a while?

In my opinion there is probably at least one of two problems at hand when someone says that reading isn’t fun:

  1. That person has only been introduced to school reading, which they believe must be boring on principle, and is often more “literary” than “genre.”
  2. That person may have difficulty visualizing what he or she sees in printed words.

I’ll probably address problem #2 another time. Today I’m thinking more about #1.

There are plenty of literary classics and short stories that have lots to offer in the way of entertainment and education. Some are happy, some are sad, some are serious, etc. I teach a handful of these, and I appreciate them. A few are even my favorites of all time.

For many of these titles, though, the Genre Factor is left a little cold. By this I mean that a non-reader who loves science fiction – eats up any movie about the future, watches every TV episode involving space, and has a wall covered in art depicting androids – often finds little to pique his or her interest in literature while taking a standard survey lit. class. The same goes for a fantasy fan or a mystery nut. There are a few stories here and there that break the mold, but they aren’t often the majority, and many professors choose to leave them out altogether. After all, “genre” fiction is just “trash” fiction, right?

I disagree. While I appreciate and enjoy the literary classics or mainstream stories that sometimes don’t fit into a specific genre, I also believe that they should be taught alongside quality genre fiction. This practice, I believe, may begin to dispel the incorrect assumption that all reading is dull.

In my own studies right now I’m taking two genre courses: Horror and Science Fiction. For one we’re starting with Matheson’s I Am Legend, and for the other we’re starting with Robinson’s Red Mars. Both are great reads for someone with my literary tastes.

Instead of wading through story after story that doesn’t appeal to me, I’m going to spend most of my time having fun. And, in addition to that, I’ll learn about the genres and how they have evolved over time due to various historical factors. I’ll analyze specific tropes (why do I hate this word?) that contribute to our fiction and our culture.

And, most importantly, I’ll be reading, and I’ll feel energized to read more because I enjoyed myself.

Now, I’m already a reader, so there’s no work required to persuade me to keep reading. But isn’t this exactly what many parents and educators say they want to do? Persuade kids and young adults to read more?

I say keep the literary fiction. A lot of it is great, and some readers will enjoy it most of all. But perhaps it’s a good idea to think beyond those titles as well. Throw in a little fantasy here, a little mystery there. Or perhaps give students a general sampling of everything and then let them choose which genre (or non-genre) to pursue for future readings.

My question here is this: what significant differences in quality do you see between genre fiction and literary fiction? Are those differences enough to discount the best sellers that students may love — and leave them out of general literature studies altogether?

Communication With Characters

Yesterday, mostly because I needed a short break from all the work I’ve taken on lately, I went to an excellent matinée showing of “The Heiress” with my husband and my parents. This wasn’t a film; it was a theatrical production.

I’m a firm supporter of the performing arts, as anyone who knows me will already be aware.  In my completely unscientific opinion, this is also part of the reason I love transmedia storytelling, or alternate reality games.

When you’re watching a live show, the actors laugh, cry, argue, scream, die, or even yawn in front of you – and it’s contagious.

It’s similar to the experience of going to a party where there is a really charismatic, happy person hanging out at the punch bowl. You may not have been in the best mood when you arrived, but that person’s happiness is magnetic, and more often than not, people leave in a good mood.

Or, conversely, a charismatic, unhappy person can spoil an otherwise good party pretty quickly.

As audience members we can’t participate in the stories of most traditional theatre, but we can feel what the actors are putting themselves through. We’re close enough to see the sweat on their faces – sometimes we can even smell them if we’re in the front few rows. The actors’ energy is all around us, and in moments of high stress, we’re in it with them. This isn’t something that happened several months ago and was recorded for us to view later; it’s happening right now.

Something similar goes on in alternate-reality-transmedia-storytelling-game-fiction-whatever-we-would-like-to-call-it.  🙂

In ARGs, though audiences can’t feel the energy of live people in the same room (except in the case of live events), that same immediacy is there. As with theatre, ARGs provide the sense that the story is happening right now. In addition, audiences get to participate in the story itself, thus putting them even closer to the characters they have grown to love, hate, trust, or mistrust.

For me this is the most thrilling part of both theatre and ARGs. When I’m in the audience, I’m pulled into the rabbit hole, deep into a world that isn’t my own but feels very real. When I’m on the creation side, I’m developing worlds and scenarios that I know I would love to explore.

Are you a fan of immediacy in your fiction? Where else can we find this sense of communication with the characters?

Ebooks or No?

I love my Kindle.  It’s impossible to ignore the convenience of being able to purchase a book at any time, even hours after books stores are closed, and then to carry around hundreds of books at once in one small device. I get periodicals, classics, nonfiction, and new fiction on my Kindle, and I simply love the experience.

Right now I’m reading a science fiction novel – but in paperback. This seems ironic to me. Shouldn’t a futuristic book be read on a futuristic device?

There’s no way to fully explain my logic with this one, probably because there is no true logic at work. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (cool site!) is a hefty book, weighing in at 572 pages, and it is the first of a trilogy. It’s available on the Kindle. In fact, I might have gotten a better deal with an e-version, as some appear to combine two of the three books in one package.

Still, something about the size of this novel and the scope of its story made me yearn for the feel of actual pages and the smell of paper. At about 200 pages in, I’m glad I bought the print version. It’s great to hold the publication in my hands and hear the sound of the thick book as I flip through its leafy pages to re-read a line I particularly appreciated. The subject may be futuristic, but my enjoyment of it is strictly old school.

This makes me wonder: are there certain books that simply feel better in “real life?” Are some books easily transferable to the monitor – or even made specifically for it – while others are more fun to read in the traditional format?

Or was it just my mood at the time?  🙂

Novels and short stories and plays! (omai)

Not all writing is created equal, I’ve found. I have worked on many varieties of wordsmithing throughout my studies and my career, and each version has different needs and offers different things.

The three most common (traditional) projects I work on are short stories, novels, and plays.

Short stories are like bright ideas that appear in a flash and stay for a while, playfully and periodically lighting up on my computer screen at unplanned moments. I have a lot of fun with short stories. They feel like snacks between meals, and I take my time with them. I like how compact they can be, like a booklight that folds up into a convenient size for luggage. I bring my short story ideas with me everywhere, and I play with them whenever the mood hits. Though they may take a long time to complete to my satisfaction, they rarely become tangled messes or require elaborate outlining. For me, short stories are pure fun.

Novels are different. These are writing experiences that feel like boring through dark tunnels, seeking precious light at the end of long and twisted journeys. I love working on novels. These aren’t just my snacks or my meals; they’re the entire kitchen and dining room, and the bread and salad and wine that go with the entrée. A novel is a commitment to time and energy and love. It can get scary and frustrating and even impossible without a good plan, but the payoff at the end is emotionally rewarding. Most authors, published and un, will agree that the success we feel from finishing such a novel is wonderful beyond words.

For both novels and short stories, I find that I need to see my paragraphs on the screen in order to understand how they work together. In other words, I don’t think I could dictate fiction to someone else to type out for me. Somewhere along the way I would get lost without my visual cues. In addition to that, I normally read a page or two aloud to myself as I work on first drafts and revisions just to get a different sense of the flow. This helps me hear words that might be off or misplaced, when my eye would have failed to notice.

Plays take me somewhere else entirely. When I work on a play I am both closer to my characters and farther away from them. It’s as if they’re half in shadow, half in sunlight, as I explore their feelings and reactions, but I keep an almost equal distance between the entire cast. It’s a tough act to perform, like juggling apples and bananas and oranges all at the same time. I have to handle each one properly and fairly, but I can’t hesitate too long or everything tumbles down. The theatre is one of my first true loves, and I cherish every minute I spend considering questions such as, “Will this set be possible or practical?” and “How can I get this actor off stage to change costumes?” in addition to the normal plotting questions that come up when working with fiction.

I also have to read my work aloud when I write a play, of course. However, I do it differently. If I don’t have someone else around (my husband, my brother, other friends) who can act, I sometimes have to record myself reading the lines into a microphone. For some reason I can listen to my words for short stories or novels aloud as I speak them, and I can feel my way through the proper flow. But with plays I need to sit back as an audience member and listen to the way the words sound from there – and that requires either willing friends or a recorder.

Sometimes (right now) I’m working on all three at once. This might seem overwhelming and potentially confusing, but it works for me to be able to change gears every day or two. I like to have multiple projects going at the same time so that my stories always feel fresh when I return to them.

What about you?  🙂  Are you a writer or a reader (or an audience member)? Do you have a preferred format to write or enjoy? What does it mean to you?

NaNoWriMo 2009: How It All Went Down

Well, I did it. Things were pretty touch-and-go for most of the month, and at one point I seriously considered giving up on NaNoWriMo, but in the end, I pushed through and hit that 50,000-word goal.

To give you an idea of how close I came to losing, here’s a rounded (up?) number for my word count three days before the end of the month: 16k.

When I looked at that number with only three days left to go, I hung my head in shame. I was going to lose. For the first time ever, I began to accept defeat in one of the things I look forward to most each year, like the holidays or my birthday. It was all over for me, and it was still just November 27. There would be no champagne. No winner’s certificate. No 50k words.

Then, feeling glum, I opened my email and read Chris Baty’s “Homestretch pep talk.” This was by way of punishment, really. I figured his words of encouragement would make me feel poorly about my lack of progress, but instead I felt, well, encouraged.

I changed my mind.

What the Great Chris Baty did to encourage me was simple. He broke down NaNo participants into three different categories:

Group One: The Superheroes.” These were the WriMos who had worked diligently all November and had already won or were going to win with no problem. According to Baty, these made up only 3% of WriMos.

Group Two: The Come-Back Kids.” These were the participants who were still pushing through the 20s or 30s and would make a final push for the finish to win at the last minute. They had had some fallbacks, but the end was in sight, and November 30th would be a day of success.

Group Three: The Go On Without Me’s.” This was my group.

I’ve never been in that group before. It’s not the worst thing in the world, I realized. In fact, after reading the pep talk email, I remembered what an incredible undertaking NaNoWriMo really is, and how impressive it is to give it a shot at all.

And then I read this note from Chris Baty to the Go On Without Me’s:

“This is going to sound really weird, but you’re in the best shape of all three groups. You’re off the map, but that’s the point of this escapade. NaNoWriMo is to there to put you in such an impossible situation that you can stop worrying about perfection and achievement and just savor the thrill that comes with making and doing. Think of the remaining days in NaNoWriMo as an anything-goes creative retreat. You sacrificed your novel to the world around you this month, and the world around you appreciated it. But you now get some time for you. You may not write 50,000 words, but you still have plenty of time to create something smaller and equally wonderful. Return to the page—there’s still a beautiful adventure waiting for you.”

That’s exactly what I did. Suddenly I felt as though anything were possible. I’d already given up, so what did I have to lose? I pulled out my calculator and did some minor division (yes, calculators are necessary; I’m a writer, not a mathematician). In order to reach 50,000 words in three days, I needed to write over 10k per day. Impossible? Of course. But if I was going to lose, I was at least going to aim high.

And so, instead of losing, I won.

Yes, I wrote over thirty-thousand words in three days. During that time, I also worked and did research for the class I’m taking. My mind is officially mush, but I exceeded my personal goals, and I’m exhausted but elated. This NaNo win has turned out to be the sweetest of them all because I tried to do something impossible, and it turned out to be possible.

At 11 p.m. on November 30, I validated my word count, and there it was:

Victory is a lovely thing. Sometimes it even comes with graphics of fireworks. 🙂

Several of my WriMo buddies won this year, too, and I applaud them! In fact, I applaud anyone who even attempted NaNo; it’s an amazing experience that has turned November into the favorite (or least favorite) month for writers all over the world. Participating in a challenge to create 50k new words within 30 days shows exactly how dedicated we all are, and we should be proud. Or locked up.

Either way, congrats to every WriMo out there.

Did you participate? How did it turn out for you? And have you dontated to NaNoWriMo yet?

Pets and Books

Well, the vacation at the beach is nearly over, and I’m actually a bit glad. It’s been lots of fun, but I woke up this morning half-expecting my dog to jump up on my belly and lick my face, asking to be let outside.

Then I felt homesick.

My pets amount to one dog, two cats, and two goldfish.

Our dog is a maltipoo (Maltese and toy poodle mix) named Sprocket, after a character in Fraggle Rock. He’s just under two years old, and his best friend is –

Coretta, our kitten. She’s a little calico we rescued from the streets, and the most loving animal I’ve ever met. When Sprocket goes outside, she cries as if her heart is breaking, and when he returns, she leaps on top of him – paws outstretched – to play. They’re absolutely perfect together.

Watching over them is our other cat, Othello. He looks like a miniature panther, and he can usually be found lounging on the couch or the tile floor, observing playtime between the others, once in a while even jumping into the fray himself. He’s my little soul mate from the animal kingdom, so we spend a lot of time together. Sometimes he sits on my keyboard to let me know it’s time to snuggle!

Frida and Pituka are our goldfish. Coretta loves to watch them from the floor. She looks up with calm interest and tilts her head from side to side, as if trying to understand why they’re in the water all the time.

So today, though I’m having a wonderful time getting away from it all, I’m starting to miss home a little. I’ll be happy to see my pets when I’m back!

I’m also getting ready for February, when I plan to do my own, personal NaNoWriMo. My goal will be to finish a first draft of my next novel before March. So that means I need to start plotting now!

If you have any thoughts about From Light to Dark that you’d like to share, I’m always happy to hear them.

Also, be sure to take a look at my silly meme answers to Heidi Ruby Miller’s “Pick Six” interview. You’ll get to learn all about my obsession with cartoons.