Fiction Sale #4–Turning Back the Clock to Bull Spec

David here. I’m happy to say I’ve made my fourth fiction sale! ÂAnd good news for my friends who’ve said you would like to read my writing but don’t care for horror: Âthis is the first story I’ve sold that I wouldn’t classify as horror. Â:)

The story: ÂTurning Back the Clock, a time travel story about a man trying to prevent his wife’s death.
The publication: ÂBull Spec, a brand new market edited by Samuel Montgomery-Blinn. ÂTheir premier issue is scheduled to come out in the next couple weeks. According to their website, they’ll be offering stories in print, in e-books, as well as audio versions in multiple languages. The date: ÂNot sure yet. ÂNot Issue #1, but perhaps #2 or #3, Summer 2010

And, as if that wasn’t cool enough, this will be my first professionally paying sale! ÂIt doesn’t yet qualify for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) membership because it’s such a new market, but as long as they prove themselves with longevity and magnitude, then this would retroactively count toward membership.

Niche Game: Grand Theft Auto

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing mecause they’re something different, something special.

The original Grand Theft Auto, the game that started the memorable series, was released by DMA Design, now known as Rockstar North. This is just one in the long list of ingenius games this company is capable of, with such varied gameplay that you never get bored. This game is similar in some ways to its descendents, but has many unique traits of its own.

The game is mostly 2-D. Technically it’s 3-D, because the height of buildings is clear as you drive by them, but the game rarely involves interacting with anything that’s not strictly on the ground. The view is top-down only. This view works pretty well for the most part, but isn’t very helpful when you are beneath something opaque like an overpass.

The plot moves through three cities, which will sound familiar to fans of the later games. You start in Liberty City (New York), move on to Vice City (Miami), and the last level is in San Andreas (California). The game starts out with your character in Liberty City, near a bunch of ringing telephones on the edge of Central Park. Each telephone kicks off a different mission, which you then try to complete. When you pass or fail, you return to the phones if you want more missions. Or, like the sequels, you can just choose to rampage.

Completing missions is important, but in this version is not required to advance through the game. Advancement in this game depends on the points, though missions are an integral way of rapidly increasing your points, and succeeding in missions tends to open up more missions. Besides getting a huge point bonus for completing a mission, doing so also increases your points multiplier by one. The multiplier is applied to every point you receive. The points are labeled as dollars on-screen, but it’s not really clear who is paying you $10 for every pedestrian you run over, so I tend to think of them as points. You can use the points to purchase things, such as a paint job to lose cops or planting a bomb in a car.

Missions vary widely. Sometimes you’re the driver for a bank job, evading pursuit with a high police level, or other times you’re sent on an assassination mission. One mission re-enacts the premise of speed. Once you get in this bus, you must maintain a minimum speed or the bus will explode. So you have to drive on sidewalks and swerve in and out of traffic to pull this off, keeping it up until someone can disable the bomb while you’re driving.

You do get points for pretty much anything, including running over people with your car, shooting people. You get lots of extra points for mass carnage. For instance, if you steal many cars and parks them side by side, then blow them all up with a shot from the rocket launcher. This works with people too, which is especially noticeable when you see a line of Hare Krishna walking in single file. If you can run over the whole line without missing a single one of them, then you get a huge bonus, along with the word “GOURANGA” filling the screen. Another way to cause carnage is to scare people onto the third rail of the city trains. Fire a gun or a flamethrower at no one in particular at a train station and people will flee in every direction, even if they zap themselves to do it.

Of course, the more visible crimes you commit, the more your police wanted level goes up. With one star, you’re usually only pursued by one or two cops who don’t try to kill you, only to arrest you. As your wanted level increases, so does the level of pursuit. A little higher and cops set up road blocks with their cars blocking the road. It escalates up to the point where the military gets involved, sending tanks barreling down the street. If you get “BUSTED” or “WASTED” (both of which come with their own awesome sound clip), you will come to at the nearest police station or hospital without weapons and with your multiplier reduced. This is very disappointing when it happens, because those multiplier values are everything.

Besides the phone missions, there are also missions you begin by jumping into abandoned cars parked in various places in the city. And sometimes you get important mission information via your beeper which scrolls messages up on the top of the screen. It’s all open-ended, so you can do any of these missions, or not. it’s really up to you.

There is a wide array of cars in this game, most modeled after real cars, though using different false names than the 3-D GTA games. For instance, the Dodge Viper is a “Beast” in this game as opposed to the “Banshee” used in later games. Each car has its own attributes, and of course stealing cop cars is one of the most fun things to do. Turning on the sirens increases the cop car’s top speed.

Just like GTA3, this game has radio stations with made up songs on them. This was one of my favorite parts of the game, just driving around and listening to the fake music. There are several radio stations, and not every one is available in every car. For a laugh, grab a pickup truck, which has just one possible station. It’s a country station and it plays just the one song–which is a hilarious country parody. After the song, the DJ comes on for a few moments and says “In fact, I liked the song so much, I reckon I’ll play it again.”

Once you reach the minimum point level to pass the level, then you are given a special mission. If you pass that mission, then you pass the level and are allowed to move on. Personally I’ve passed the first two levels, but did not make it through San Andreas. I just wasn’t very good at gun play in this top down game and tended to get smeared across the landscape. Some time I should pick up the game and try again, to see if I have any better luck now.

The 3-D sequels are well known, so I won’t list those, but there some a couple of lesser known sequels to the game. Grand Theft Auto: London takes place in 1969 in London, with different music, different kinds of cars, and of course in London itself. It’s not as big a game as the original, but can be sort of fun if you’re craving more. Grand Theft Auto 2 is done in the same top-down style, but with a gang war system added. In each level there are 2 or 3 major gangs fighting for contention over the city, and you have a reputation with each of them (measured by meters on the heads-up display). Completing missions for one gang will increase that gang’s like for you, but will decrease other gangs’ like for you. The higher your reputation with a gang, the more of their missions are offered to you, and the lower, the more hostile they become. This game was hard for me because I have a tendency to want to complete every mission for everybody, which isn’t really possible for this game as you’d just end up with a neutral reputation with everybody instead of really gaining something. Grand Theft Auto 2 added a new feature, an evangelist hut that says “Jesus Saves!”. And he does save. Your game that is.

If you want to find a copy of the game, you’re in luck! Rockstar offers a free download of Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto 2 on their website. So you have no excuse not to play it. See where the carnage began. Enjoy!

Wheel of Time Re-read Review: Crossroads of Twilight

[Fair warning: The beginning of this article is a lengthy explanation of why I’m re-reading this book at this moment. If you don’t care, then skip down to the part below that says BEGIN REVIEW]

I’ve long proclaimed that Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time fantasy series is my favorite fantasy series of all time. The characters are great, the magic system is detailed and interesting, and the worldbuilding is just extraordinary. Jordan strikes just the right balance between style and substance, hitting a medium that flows easily but still reads in an appealing way.

But, since 2007, I have been dreading picking the series again. The reason for my dread is not anything that Robert Jordan did, but rather a change in my tastes, leaning towards the critical. I started writing fiction back then, and it has changed my reading preferences forever. Above all, I’ve learned that my most valued trait of any writing is conciseness. Is it the best length for the story it has to tell. This has made it VERY hard to read Stephen King novels! Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time novels are very long, and there are a lot of them (11 written by his hand before he died), so I’ve been worried that I will no longer be able to enjoy the books now that I’m so much more picky.

In September 2007, Robert Jordan died of a blood disease. I regret that I was never able to meet the man who created my favorite books. He’d known how the series would wrap up for a long time before the end, and since he saw the end coming he kept copious notes so that the Wheel of Time would not have to pass away prematurely with him. His publishers at Tor chose Brandon Sanderson to use the notes to complete the series. I’m not sure what to expect from Sanderson. I haven’t read anything else that he’s written so he’s a completely unknown entity to me. I got the newest WoT book, The Gathering Storm, for Christmas, so I will soon find out what I think of his writing. I will probably either love or hate him, depending on if I feel he is continuing Jordan’s legacy satisfactorily.

To be fair to Sanderson, I decided that it would be best if I re-read some of the Wheel of Time before reading the new one. After all, it is possible that I no longer care for Jordan’s writing style, and so it would be rather unfair to judge Sanderson against a nostalgic memory that isn’t all that accurate anymore. Sanderson is the guest of honor at MiniCon here in the Twin Cities, which I will be attending, so I want to have gotten started on The Gathering Storm before that time so I can decide whether I hate him. So I don’t have time to re-read many of the Wheel of Time books. I decided to re-read books 10 (Crossroads of Twilight) and 11 (Knife of Dreams), leaving me at least a little time to get started on The Gathering Storm before Easter weekend.

So, long story short, I’ve just finished Crossroads of Twilight, and here is my review!


Spoilers ahead, and I don’t really feel like marking them out after this. So, if you don’t want to know, then don’t read it!

The good news is that I still enjoy Jordan’s writing style, his accessible characters, and the world they’re contained in. The bad news is that I found this book incredibly boring. I suspect (but am not entirely sure) that it’s just this book that I dislike and that I could still enjoy the other ones. There are several reasons why I simply had trouble getting into this one:

1. Too many POVs. By this point in the series there are so many separate groups of people, widely distributed from one another, most of them in a position of some power over a huge group of other people. The trouble is, there are just simply too many groups to be able to give any single one of them justice within a single book, even a book that’s nearly 700 pages. For the first 600 pages or so, the narrative takes turns going to each of these characters for two or three chapters in a row, then on to the next and the next. The trouble is that each time there’s a transition there’s a break in whatever tension had been built to that point and I start the next section in a null state. And when it became clear that most of these people would not even be returned to in this book, it was hard to care much what happened in their everyday lives. I understand that Jordan, by this time, had set up a wide cast of characters that we all care about, but he would be better served picking just 3 or 4 major characters and focusing on them for this book, and focusing more on other characters for other books. The way it was, it seemed that fairness and equal representation was more important than reader interest or conflict, and that really killed any tension that could’ve been created.

2. Aftermath syndrome. In the last book, Winter’s Heart, a hugely important event occurs. Rand and Nynaeve, along with a bunch of other helpers, manage to use incredibly powerful sa’angreal to do what has been thought impossible–cleanse saidin, the male half of the source. Since the Breaking of the World, the world has lived in fear of men who can channel because the taint on saidin eventually causes them to go mad. The modern version of Aes Sedai are only female out of necessity and an entire division of the White Tower (the Red Ajah) is dedicated entirely to neutralizing any man who can channel for the safety of all. This is a huge blessing for Rand and others who can channel, and though it will be hard to prove the claims of the cleansing of saidin on any large social scale, it will allow channeling men to live longer and be free from madness.

Anyway, the actually cleansing created a beacon of power of both saidar and saidin detectable from anywhere within the book’s world by anyone who can channel. This is understandably disconcerting for those who can channel because they would’ve thought that magnitude of Power usage would’ve been impossible. I understand why they’d be disconcerted. But one of the major annoyances of the book is that every one of these multitude of sections involved a rehashing of this concept. All of the sections took place more or less simultaneously, beginning just before this beacon appeared and lasting for a day or two after. So the mystery and the worry is rehashed so many times. Maybe this would interesting if we weren’t already aware of what the beacon was, but we already saw it in the last book! So it just gets tiresome.

3. No thread of standout importance. In most of the Wheel of Time books, there is a thread that is clearly meant to be the most important thread of that book. In book 1, the quest to find the Eye of the World. In book 3, the quest to catch up to Rand and Rand’s drive to go to the Stone of Tear. Many of the books end with a major fight with one of the Forsaken, or a major revelation such as Rand’s learnings in Rhuidean. In Crossroads of Twilight, none of the threads seemed significantly more important than the others. Each was just like a quick update on what that character’s up to, but in most cases it’s entirely clear that they’re in the same place they have been and will continue to be aftereward. Only in the very last chapter does any sense of change really take place and it’s so unforeshadowed and comes so completely out of nowhere that I never had any particular tension about it in the first place (More about that in #4).

4. No climax. Okay, yes, the book does end on a cliffhanger. Egwene sets off in a rowboat to use her mad cuendillar-making skills to block the harbors. She succeeds in blocking one of the harbors, but is captured and brought into the tower. Which is a great twist, and the quest that sparked it was both worthy and interesting. The trouble is that quest was not foreshadowed in any particular way. In her sections she thought from time to time about some unspecified plan she had, but never went into details. This bugs me to no end, because I like to really sink into a point of view when I read a story. I want to feel what the character’s feeling, but that’s impossible if she’s making huge overarching plans and keeping it as a secret from me. Finally in the last five pages, I figure out what she’s doing, and then she gets captured two pages later. Because I’ve read the book before, I knew her plan and knew the cliffhanger, and there was a hint or two but not enough to create significant tension for a first read. If I’d known her plan back when she started making it, then I could worry about how it would turn out, but revealing the plan and then having it fail at the same time doesn’t work well for me–I’m already disinterested! And because of my #1 complaint, Egwene had a very minor portion of the book, page-wise, so it didn’t make a great deal of sense to have her ending be the big ending.

I like when the beginning ties to the end in some significant way, but in this case there was no Chekhov’s gun to tie everything together. It ended up seeming more like a collection of uninteresting status updates on every character. Next I’m reading Knife of Dreams. I hope this one measures up more to my memory of the series! That’s Jordan’s last chance to get me warmed up to read the new Sanderson volume. Wish me luck!

-David Steffen

Game Review: “Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier” for the PS2

Written by Melissa Shaw
Reprinted from Fantasy Magazine

“Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier (TLF)” has no business being as entertaining as it is. It’s a Sony PSP port for the PlayStation 2, for God’s sake. To an eye accustomed to the PlayStation 3’s rich visuals, TLF’s graphics seem boxy and crude.

And yet, TLF is great fun, with solid gameplay, an interesting storyline, and a surprisingly compelling soundtrack. It features platforming, environmental puzzles, combat, lots of side quests and mini-games, and high-flying aerial missions that have you zooming around in the dogfighting plane of your choice.

TLF is the first game in the franchise to be developed by High Impact Games instead of Naughty Dog, and it has a slightly different flavor and focus than its predecessors. Gone are most of the familiar characters and locales from earlier entries in the series, as our intrepid heroes venture farther afield than ever before.

TLF opens with Jak, Daxter, and Keira (the only other character who has appeared in previous games) searching uncharted territories for eco, an energy source whose current inexplicable absence is creating storms that threaten the world itself. Find more eco, save the world.

As in previous installments, through the course of the game, Jak acquires weapons and abilities that bring a lot of variety to the gameplay. Instead of just retreading old territory with eco-based powers from previous games, however, this game brings a whole slew of new toys, including a weaponized ball of energy you can throw at enemies, temporary eco-crystals you can grow to change your environment at strategic locations, an ersatz jet-pack, and the ability to slow time (okay, that one was from previous games). The weapons are largely familiar, though High Impact Games has added a powerful grenade launcher that ends up being the game’s most useful weapon.

TLF also offers a number of mods, hidden as treasure throughout the levels or available in mini-quests, that allow you to upgrade your armor, weapons, and planes.

While most of the gameplay mechanics are familiar to fans of the series, in TLF, Jak has lost his ability to turn into the eco-powered Dark Jak or Light Jak. To make up for that, you now get some Dark Daxter segments in which Daxter, the fuzzy little sidekick, falls down a tunnel, gets doused with dark eco, hulks out, and has to navigate his own mini-levels. Unfortunately, these sections are the weakest part of the game, with no camera control, dull environments, and no integration into the rest of the story.

Speaking of camera control, the forced camera perspective in several spots in the game is an annoyance, particularly when navigating an especially tricky platforming section, or when you want to look around for extra goodies. Fortunately, some camera control is available most of the time.

TLF has a surprising amount of replay value in Hero Mode, which becomes available once you have finished the game. As you play through the levels again, you may notice environmental cues that you missed the first time through, and that lead you to secret rooms and hidden areas filled with loot. And if you don’t notice them, the game gently clues you in by sending a small, ethereal blue light to guide you to the goodies when you get close enough.

While it shows its PSP origins in its crude visuals and frequent lack of camera control, “Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier” for the PS2 is still more satisfying than many snazzier-looking action-adventure games for the PS3.

Melissa Shaw’s short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Realms of Fantasy, Analog, and several anthologies. Melissa is a Clarion West graduate and a “Writers of the Future” contest winner. She is currently writing for an as-yet-unreleased video game.

Buggers and Pathfinders–Orson Scott Card

I’m thrilled to introduce today’s guest, the one and only Orson Scott Card. Orson Scott Card is most well-known as the author of the award-winning novel Ender’s Game, published in 1985. Ender’s Game won both the Nebula and the Hugo awards. And no wonder that was so popular–I just finished reading it for the first time and I found it be compelling throughout.

He has written many stories in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and Biblical. And he’s contributed to the publishing business in other ways besides writing. He is the founder of professional speculative fiction magazine Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, which has published some amazing stories. He also runs a yearly weeklong writer’s workshop titled Literary Boot Camp. Entry to the workshop is application-based and very competitive. Graduation from Boot Camp would be a great addition to any cover letter. Check out his website Hatrack River, and while you’re there stop by the Hatrack River Writer’s Workshop, a writer’s forum where you can ask for advice, share commiserations and congratulations, and just generally shoot the breeze.

David Steffen: At what point did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

Orson Scott Card: I’m not sure I ever really did. Writing was ‘in the air’ in my house – my dad subscribed to Writer’s Digest, and as Mormons it was part of our culture to write sermons, essays, and even comic plays. So I always wrote and thought of writing as something regular people did all the time. But it wasn’t a career choice! I entered college as an archaeology major, but found I was spending all my time in the theatre department. So I changed majors. I started writing in order to fix plays (Flowers for Algernon, for instance, had a terrible second act, so with the director’s permission I wrote a new one based on the story and novel), and then to adapt novels for readers’ theatre productions. Then I started writing one-act plays for a playwriting class, and finally wrote a full-length play, which was produced by a faculty member. Later came mainstage plays at the university and elsewhere, and there were sold-out houses and held-over runs. So I began to think of myself as a playwright – though I was also a director and actor and singer.

Later, as a theatre company I started was failing (a relative term – our deficits, without subsidy of any kind, were remarkably low!), I needed to earn extra money. So I turned seriously to writing short stories as the only way I could think of to earn a buck. After that decision, my first story was “Ender’s Game.” Some of my earlier, hobby-period stories became “The Worthing Saga,” and I was off and running. Even then, I still earned more than half my income as a freelance editor and as an audio scriptwriter; I didn’t really think of myself as mainly a fiction writer until I started earning serious money at the gig. And in my heart, I still think I’m a better play director than writer. But I can’t get paid for it!

David: Where did the idea for the original Ender’s Game novelette originate?

OSC: In 1968, my brother was in the army. He was stationed at Ft. Douglas in Salt Lake City, and so he came home most weekends, where he met the woman he eventually married. For my birthday in 1968, he and his fiancee gave me the Foundation Trilogy, the first sci-fi novel I’d read since I read some Norton and Heinlein in junior high (I was not a dedicated fan, sci-fi was just one of the many genres I read in).

After reading Asimov – that brilliant, absolutely clear style! those sweeping stories! – I thought that I would like to be able to think of a great science fiction story idea. with my brother’s military experience looming in my mind, I thought: How would you train soldiers for war in space? I remembered Nordhoff & Hall’s novel about WWI aviators, and the problem the new pilots had with thinking in three dimensions (the enemy that killed them usually came from above or below, and they never saw him). It would be even worse in space, where there is no “down.” And if you just train out in space, you run the serious risk of having injured soldiers drift away. So I thought of the battle room, a football-field size cube in which trainees would get used to having to face opponents in three dimensions with a flexible up-and-down orientation. Sometimes there would be obstacles, sometimes not. And there the idea stayed for several years, while I worked on the Zenna Henderson-influenced Worthing stories from time to time.

Later, needing money, I took a notebook with me while accompanying a girlfriend as she took her boss’s kids to the circus. No ticket for me (which was fine, I am deeply bored by circuses); I sat on the lawn outside the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City and wrote, “Remember, the enemy’s gate is down.” The key new insight was: what if the trainees were children young enough that they could still absorb the three-dimensional, no-down space and make it, not second nature, but their FIRST nature? So Ender became a kid, the youngest commander in the history of Battle School, and then I just winged it from there.

David: I’ve heard that Ender’s Game is in the works to become a video game. What was your level of involvement of the design of the game? Is there anything about video game adaptations that surprised you?

OSC: The videogame is a problem, because there’s been no movie. Everybody wants to do the game of the movie – but that’s the game I DON’T want. I want to have games with replayability, not games where you just act out Ender and then you’re done with it. I want battle-room games, and battle-SCHOOL MUDDs, and games based on the formic wars, all three of them, and a version of the Mind Game from the books, and games about colonizing the former Formic worlds with all the surprises lurking there. The trick is to find someone willing to finance the development of these games. But this is the ONLY way to make it a franchise. My model is the way LucasArts developed and keeps renewing the Star Wars game franchise. I won’t settle for anything less. So I have detached the movie rights from the game rights – I learned my lesson with Warner, which was full of talk about developing the game regardless of what happened with the movie – all empty promises! Eventually, I’ll find a game publisher that doesn’t want to fire me and then make the game of the movie. Meanwhile, I have several brilliant game DESIGNERS, like the great team headed by Donald Mustard, who want to work with me on the game. But they don’t have the funding. It’s a matter of time!

David: You’ve also written for comic books. Did you find it difficult to adapt your writing to apply it to visual mediums?

OSC: Fortunately, I don’t have to be the artist – I don’t have to conceive the actual pictures. Essentially, writing a comic book IS writing a play. I write the panels and tell what should happen in the panels – but the artists will conceive the “shot” and find ways to make things clear. So I’m on very familiar turf. That doesn’t mean there weren’t things I had to learn – for instance, I had a scene in Ultimate Iron Man where someone pulls their hands out of manacles, cutting off fingers in the process. My brilliant editor (Nick Lowe) said, No, it’s unbearable to do that: it’s not like a movie, where the image flashes past you on the screen. It sits there on the page for the reader to STUDY. A great perception that I simply hadn’t grasped. So I definitely needed guidance, and I got better as I went along. Now I’m writing the first series of Formic Wars comics for Marvel – set before Ender’s Game – and I feel comfortable doing it.

David: What projects would you like to see yourself working on ten years from now?

OSC: I hope all my existing contracts and projects are long since fulfilled, and I get to spend my old age writing whatever I feel like, and not having to sell it until it’s written!

David: Looking back on the first five years of Intergalactic Medicine Show, did you go as you expected? What lessons have you learned through the launch?

OSC: Have we been doing it five years now? I didn’t think it was THAT long. No, it hasn’t gone as I’d hoped in the sense that we’re not finding as many readers as I wanted, and we’re still running at a loss. At the same time, the readers who DO buy and read the magazine really care about and enjoy the fiction, and it’s a joy to see the stories come to life. We buy illustrations for every story, so that the old-time magazine feel is still there, still alive in IGMS. And the readership is steadily growing, so someday I expect it will move from money-losing hobby to money-making institution! Ed Schubert does an excellent job as editor, and our pre-readers do a great job of letting the good submissions rise to the top. Kathleen Bellamy is managing editor but also art director, and she has assembled a wonderful array of artists who are willing to sacrifice to do excellent work for our pathetically low payment.

David: If you could give only one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?

OSC: The main advice is: Stop looking for advice and just keep putting words on paper. You learn more from writing a 100,000-word novel than from any number of classes or books on writing or workshops you might take (and I include mine in that – why bother going to a workshop if you’re not actually WRITING and FINISHING things?).

Having said that, my next most important advice is: Writer’s block is your friend. It is your unconscious mind telling you that something you just wrote, or are about to write, is not working. Either you don’t believe in it or you don’t care about the story any more. Your unconscious is your best editor – it tries desperately to keep you from writing crap. So the answer is NEVER to tough it out and force yourself to move on through your outline. The result of that will be garbage that you don’t care about and the reader won’t either. Instead, go back and change or amplify or add to the what-happens-and-why of the story (the “plain tale”); pick up on a minor character and make them somebody and see what they do; give an existing character a more complicated set of motives; change the way the world works in some significant way. Then go back to where that change starts happening and write everything from there on as if the previous version never existed. Don’t look at it, don’t think about the old version. Just write the NEW story, the one that has freshened in your mind.

The danger of this is that you end up writing seven-book trilogies – but worse things can happen! Some of the very best stuff in my writing has been a gift of writer’s block, which caused me to reinvent the story.

Fiddling with language or tiny meaningless details, of course, accomplishes nothing except to kill the spontaneity of the first draft. The first draft is the best draft – you only change spots where it isn’t clear or where the story isn’t working; you never just fiddle with language. That just kills your natural style.

Oh, and a last piece of advice: Even if Strunk and White’s Elements of Style were not a bunch of meaningless drivel and hideously bad advice for ALL writers, it certainly is meaningless for fiction writers! There is no virtue to eliminating “needless” words in fiction – and if you’re thinking about style, your style will be dead. You think about story and character, what happens and why, and let your natural voice carry the story. You’ll have an inimitable style then – your real voice – and the rules from the ignorant, miseducated English teachers who abused your understanding of the language throughout your miseducation will fall by the wayside, where they should be left behind. You can’t be thinking about language while you write; that’s like trying to ride a bicycle while thinking about balance and pedaling. And you’ve seen the stories that result from that kind of writing – a “style” that calls attention to itself constantly, so you can barely find the story through the English-professor-pleasing nonsense that has been smeared on the lens.

David: Where did the name for your website Hatrack River come from?

OSC: Hatrack River is a town in the Alvin Maker series – the birthplace of Alvin (as his pioneer parents were passing through) and the place where he served his apprenticeship.

David: What was the last book you read?

OSC: The last fiction book was The Broken Teaglass, by Emily Arsenault. The last BOOK was If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People?: Smart Quotes for Dumb Times, by editors John Lloyd & John Mitchinson. Plus on my Kindle I’m nearing the end of a reread of Jane Austen’s Emma, and on my Nano I’m in the second half of Ken Scholes’s Canticle. Life is only happy when I have three or four books going at once.

David: Your favorite book?

OSC: For me, it’s a tie between Pride and Prejudice and Lord of the Rings. Those are the two books I most often reread.

David: Who is your favorite author?

OSC: The good writer whose book I am presently reading, because that’s the one I’m conversing with at the moment. There are so many writers whose work I love and/or admire that I can’t pick just one favorite – it would change every few weeks anyway!

Having said that – and it’s true – Austen and Tolkien are beloved favorites, as is Asimov; there’s a whole group of mystery writers whose work I avidly devour; I just discovered Thackeray and Trollope and am an enthusiastic new convert; and there are some extraordinary YA writers, the best of whom may well be Neal Shusterman, and the best of whose books (so far) is the absolutely brilliant, devastating Everlost. In sci-fi and fantasy, Ken Scholes, Patrick Rothfuss, Sherwood Smith, Robin Hobb, James Maxey, David Farland (but my favorites are the books he wrote as Dave Wolverton), and … and … I’m just going to leave out too many writers whose work I love, so I’ll stop.

David: What was the last movie you saw?

OSC: Me and Orson Welles. It was so brilliant I went back right away, this time with my wife and daughter, and saw it again. A great script, great directing, and above all absolutely brilliant acting, especially by Christian McKay in the title role – though all the other actors do a splendid job as well.

David: What is your favorite movie?

OSC: A Man for All Seasons – as close to a perfect movie as you can get. But I also love Far from the Madding Crowd and A Lion in Winter; and Sense and Sensibility (the Emma Thompson version) and Love Actually are also movies I frequently watch again. For the moment, call those my top five.

David: When is the next story set in the Enderverse going to come out? How about non-Ender related stories?

OSC: My next Ender-related work will be the Marvel comic series set during the Formic Wars. Outside of the Ender universe, I’m completing a novel called Pathfinder, which is ostensibly a YA novel but I’m just writing the way I usually do. And my Mithermages series is the next book I’m doing for TOR. Both are in progress at this moment.

David: Can you tell us about your works in progress?

OSC: Pathfinder is in a world colonized by the first human-built starship that attempted to do a time-space jump to cut down the length of interstellar voyages. In the time-jump it was divided into 19 copies, containing every single person and item (in addition to the original, which then went BACKWARD in time occupying the same space as the original ship on its voyage out to the jump-point). The copies of the colony ship also jumped more than 11,000 years backward in time – basically, the same amount of time since humans discovered agriculture and began to build cities.

So it becomes an opportunity for an experiment. all 19 colony ships land, each in a large enclave surrounded by a forcefield so there can be no mixing of populations. Technology is deliberately hidden so it has to be developed anew, and starting with the identical gene pool, every colony has eleven thousand years in which to develop their own civilizations – and their own genetic differences – before they catch up to the “present” of the ship’s original jump through spacetime.

At that point (well into the second volume, I might add), humans on Earth, having learned from what happened to the first jumpship, have perfected faster-than-light travel, and send out another ship some fifteen years after the first – but without the time-jump and the copying. That ship will arrive and find humanity much altered – in 19 different ways! – and, when they see what these people have become, they have the power and, perhaps, the will to destroy some or all of them and let new colonists take over. After all, the people of this new world are no long “human” – genetically or socially.

All of this is background – the skeleton on which the actual story hangs. The story begins entirely within one of the enclaves (each about the land area of Europe west of Russia), and only gradually, as we move through the story, do we step through the walls from one enclave to another. In a way, it has echoes of my novel Treason – another set of stranded colonists who, in isolation, developed differently – but the story is very, very different. I love the characters I’m working with and the world they’re moving through – it’s as much fun as writing Alvin Maker novels.

Mithermages is a completely unrelated fantasy series, but it ties to two stories already released: Stonefather and Sandmagic. In our contemporary world, the old gods are still around – but having been cut off from their home world a couple of thousand years before, their powers are much diminished and they live pretty much in disguise, out of place in a machine-using society. Our hero in this story is the first person in many centuries to have the ability to create new gates between the worlds – and some of the families are determined to kill him. So the series moves back and forth between two planets – with the looming menace of a third, the one that is the source of the gods and angels of the Bible and the Koran. I think this one will pretty much offend everybody, but it’s a great magical universe and I love these characters, too.

David: Orson, thanks so much for stopping by, and good luck with your writing!

New Website Launch: Writrade Showcase!

Mark Turner is here today to tell everyone about the launch of the new website Writrade Showcase for readers, writers, and editors. Since Mark is the founder, I’ll let him tell you all about the website, why you should check it out, and details on the free stuff he’s giving away as part of the launch.

Writrade Showcase is a brand new idea in online promotions for writers.

Just launched this week, and offering a big swag of give-aways for the week-long launch, the Showcase takes a different approach to other promotion sites. ÂWe actually do our best to send people away!

Think of it as much as a directory to find the people, goods and services you seek, as it is a social and business network.

Where other networking sites try to keep their members and readers there, we get you to come back each day to check the site magazine for the latest news, announcements and advertising, then send you away to all the interesting places and people that you’re looking for.

Have you published the latest and greatest best-seller of a horror novel and need to tell the world about it? ÂBe sure to add the Showcase to your round of promotional sites. ÂSet up your free profile as a standing advertisement, and join the groups onsite that fit your book to make it easy for readers to find you instead of making them hunt through the membership list. ÂThen, start working the site magazine every day. ÂPost the schedules for your online blog tours, reviews and links to their sites, cover art and book trailer videos. ÂPost some excerpts from your book, give the readers a taser and get them slavering for the rest so they’ll follow your links to come buy.

If you have a magazine, do the same, post submission calls, release dates, new issues, and riddle your posts with links to make it easy for readers to leave us and come find you!

Are you a writer looking for markets for submissions? ÂFind the latest news from the publishers themselves on the magazine. ÂDo you want to post some samples of your work, some poetry, short stories, articles, or just your thoughts for the day? ÂThe Showcase magazine has a category for everyone, and you can post material to it as often as you wish. ÂJust so long as it’s at least vaguely writing-related.

Agents, editors, reviewers, novelists, journalists, shorts writers, promotions sites, publishers, writing sites, artists, graphic artists, poets; for anyone actually in the writing and publishing industry, or readers looking for news on their favourite authors and books, the news will be provided direct from the horse’s mouth, the people in the industry itself.

And what’s it cost, you ask? ÂThat’s the biggest ‘horror story’ of all. ÂNothing! (Gasp! Horror! Dismay!) ÂYep, I hear my competitors now, gnashing their teeth and wailing to the dark gods! ÂFree!


‘Coz I’m a great guy! Â(I’m shy, but let’s be honest here, heheh!) ÂNo, really. ÂAfter years of frustrated searches of the net hunting for information from this and that site, I often cried to the gods of frustration, ‘Why doesn’t someone put all this stuff together, in the one place?!’
Then, one day, I thought it was time someone did, so the Showcase was born.

Still only a baby yet, but from small beginnings can arise monsters that will take over the net, to become, in time, the first place each day you need to go for all your news and contacts in the writing and publishing trade. ÂWon’t it be heaven to be able to find whatever you need in one place? ÂAnd far from being ‘hell’ for my competitors, it’s actually a place they can use too, to make it simplicity itself for readers and writers and all others interested in any genre to come find them, and then leave to come to their sites!

A couple of new developments are in the offing. ÂThe Writrade News, a weekly online journal for a formal promotional and news publication, with special access to it available only for professional Showcase members. ÂAnd a possible new Showcase Community online Mall, with up to 200 stores, offering the chance to get into online marketing so cheaply and easily that you wont believe! Â $50 paid ONCE, to sign up, then nothing out of your pocket again, forever! ÂDetails on site.

All new members who join during our Launch Week, starting Mon, 18th and ending Sun, 24th at midnight, will automatically be in the draw for one the great prizes in the give-away basket. ÂYou can even earn extra entries, one for every day over Launch Week that you post an item on the magazine.

The prizes include no less than two free book trailer video packages, one from Dara England, the other from Apex Reviews. ÂThere are books from a number of great authors, including our own David Steffen from right here on Diabolical Plots, ‘Shadows of the Emerald City’, an anthology from Northern Frights in which his story, ‘The Utility of Love’ appears. ÂThere’s also ‘The Curse of Satan’s Collar’ by Dr John W. Miller, ‘Convict Grade’ by Azrael Paul Damien, a couple of great kids’ fantasy novels ‘The Book of Spells’ and ‘The Druiad’, by William E. Terry, ‘Radgepacket’, Tales from the Inner City and ‘More Burglar Dairies’ from Byker Books, and a the first of a terrific, old-fashioned Sword and Sorcery series by Glenn G. Thater. Â’The Gateway’, first in the ‘Harbinger of Doom’ series, is being made available to ALL members at the Showcase entirely for free by Glenn, as a free download, so you can read it right away. ÂNo waiting! ÂAnd finally, with the good stuff left till last (grin), a four issue subscription to Aurealis magazine, courtesy of yours truly. ÂAfter being an editorial staffer there for a while, mostly rejecting works from the slush pile, I finally get to make someone happy with some this prize of some great speculative fiction from Down Under.

So come on along to our launch week, join up and get your entry in the prize draw! ÂAnd at the same time help to support the greatest little promo site in the net, doing yourself a favour in the process by taking advantage of it for your own free promotions and news.

Let’s build it to a million members! ÂCome be one of the first! ÂThen you can say ‘I was there ages ago’ 🙂

Thanks to David, Anthony and the team here at DP! ÂYou guys have been a little guiding light in an otherwise slightly scary darkness throughout the process of getting the Showcase off the ground.

Mark Turner,

Mark Turner was raised in outback Australia. After a stint in the army and and some time working at a bush Base hospital, he returned to university to pursue his love of books. A viral illness cut short his aspirations and he didn’t finish the Lit’ Studies degree. Some years followed dealing with Murray Valley Encephalitis before he gradually got back into his writing. A job with Aurealis magazine followed, till he decided that it was time for his own publishing venture, and Writrade was born. The Showcase is the first of several sister sites; the Writrade News weekly journal and a speculative fiction zine, ‘Voluted Tales’ are soon to follow.

Fiction Sale #3–What Makes You Tick

I have good news to share! Northern Frights Publishing has purchased one of my stories for their upcoming War of the Worlds themed anthology. Since I was able to make it into the pages of their very first anthology, Shadows of the Emerald City, I wanted to see if I could make it into more of their excellent compilations, and I’m glad to say it worked out. I also submitted to their Timelines anthology, but got a rejection for my entry there so it’s not a clean sweep but two out of three ain’t bad. JW Schnarr is once again the editor, and I was really impressed by the quality of the stories he picked for Shadows (even if he hadn’t picked mine), so I’m looking forward to seeing who I’m sharing the table of contents with and what they’ve come up with.

My story is titled “What Makes You Tick” and it is the story of an alien autopsy from the point of view of the alien. It’s very short at only 600 words, but it packs a wallop in that small space! I like flash fiction for its brevity, a climax in such a short period of time can’t help but be exciting on some level!

For those who like stats:

Time since I started writing fiction: 2 years, 11 months

Time since I started writing short stories: 1 year, 7 months

Short story #: 22

Total responses before this sale: 209

Total rejections since last sale: 81

Time since last sale: —160 days

Total rejections of this story before this sale: 1

Total rejections from Northern Frights before this sale: 1

Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)

written by Melissa Shaw
Originally printed in Fantasy Magazine

arkhamasylumFrom top to bottom, Batman: Arkham Asylum for the Sony PS3 is a vivid, detailed, and sometimes chilling foray into the gothic world of Batman.

The premise is simple: Batman delivers a newly-captured Joker to Arkham Asylum, the notorious Gotham prison housing all his vanquished supervillain enemies, only to find himself at the center of a sinister plot. The Joker plans to make Batman witness his creation of an army of huge, bestial soldiers by using the Titan venom, a chemical compound developed at Arkham. The Joker’s more personal ultimate goal, which he reveals just before the big final boss fight at the end, is both unexpected and satisfying.

Every step of the way, the Joker is in control, leading and taunting Batman through the game’s earlier levels. But Batman is not without his own resources: an array of gadgets that allow him to master his environment by gliding with his cape, grappling up to ledges and gargoyles, using the Detective Mode view to locate enemies, and more. The fight controls are simple but responsive and effective. The game wants you to feel not only physically powerful but clever, focusing on both fighting and detective skills, and it gives you plenty of tools to do both. Despite the perils of the nighttime environment and its denizens, it’s clear that you, as Batman, are the most dangerous creature at Arkham.

The narrative in this game, written by Paul Dini (a veteran writer and producer who has written for Batman: The Animated Series), holds the game together and gives it added depth, demonstrating the increasing importance of strong scriptwriting as video games become more complex.

The game takes place over a single night, and takes Batman not just through Arkham Asylum but all over Arkham Island, in and out of various large, impressive buildings. From the moldering cemetery to the abandoned mansion, the lavish, realistic settings are filled with nooks and crannies to explore, many of which contain the 240 extras , riddles, trophies, interview tapes, and secrets maps , left for you by the Riddler.

Throughout this long, dark night, Batman encounters and must deal with any number of lunatics, henchmen, and sub-bosses, but it is his battles with Scarecrow and the hallucinations Scarecrow induces that are the most developed and affecting. The Scarecrow sequences are genuinely chilling, and delve deeply into the Batman mythos, producing some disturbing images.

The graphics are gorgeous, taking full advantage of the PS3’s processing power to deliver sharp, detailed settings and characters. (The game is also available on the Xbox 360 and the PC.) Where possible, the game integrates gameplay with narrative and dialog. For example, during the opening gameplay sequence, Batman , under your control , escorts the Joker through the entrance to Arkham, while the Joker taunts Batman, his head and body swiveling in surprisingly naturalistic movement to follow Batman wherever you move him.

The voice-over performances are strong, particularly that of Mark Hamill, who reprises his Batman: TAS role as the Joker with intelligent, psychotic glee. The soundtrack supports the narrative without intruding, creating a sense of menace and urgency where appropriate.

The game is a little on the short side, but the richness of the world and the large number of extras make up for a briefer linear gameplay. The game’s foremost flaw is that while it provides maps of the island and its various buildings, it’s not always clear how to get from one place to another; a door that was unlocked before may be locked now, and because the buildings are so large and labyrinthine, it can be difficult to figure out how to get out.

A more minor flaw , which some will see as a strength , is that despite the budget that Arkham Asylum’s massive scale clearly requires, the warden somehow couldn’t afford to clothe Poison Ivy, who saunters through the game in panties and a half-undone shirt. (While Harley Quinn’s outfit is also brief and geared toward seductiveness, she has the excuse of wanting to please and amuse her paramour, the Joker.) Of course, this game, as with most games, is geared toward teenaged boys, but as the number of adult women who play video games continues to grow, the industry would be wise to be responsive to more of its consumer base.

One note of caution: this game is a dark ride, its nightmarish imagery of corpses and skulls inappropriate for young children.

Overall, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a strong, satisfying game that lets you taste what it’s like to be Batman, up against nearly insuperable odds, but finally winning the day. Or, in this case, the night.

10527_1187758026540_1606014926_30480607_3193812_nMelissa Shaw’s short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Realms of Fantasy, Analog, and several anthologies. Melissa is a Clarion West graduate and a “Writers of the Future” contest winner. She is currently writing for an as-yet-unreleased video game.

Fun With Flash Fiction!

Hi everyone! I have a writing exercise I’m going to try out. I’m curious to see how it works, and I’ll need your help to do it. Don’t worry, no heavy lifting or paperwork required. All I need from each and every one of you is a trigger. Now you’re probably wondering what the heck I’m going on about. Well, a trigger, in this context, is a word or phrase that is used to try to create a story from. Once I have a trigger, I’ll try to use that to root a story idea in it, and will let the story grow from there. The story does not have to contain the word, nor does the connection to the word have to be obvious. The goal is get the creative flow going and end up with something in the end. So what I need from you are the trigger words. You can leave a comment here. I intend to use each and every one of them to create a story–the time frame for doing this is uncertain since I’m not sure how big of a response to expect from this, and I do have other writing projects as well as Real Life going on in parallel. So please, drop a message here with a trigger. Please keep it clean to some extent.

Where did the idea for this come to mind? Two places:
1. I first came across this idea at Liberty Hall Writer’s Forum, where they hold a weekly flash fiction challenge. Once you log in to see the trigger, you have just 90 minutes to write a complete story and submit it so you can view others’ stories and vote on your favorite. It’s a great way to get a story going when you’re having trouble getting the start. I encourage you to stop by and give it a try.

2. I lovingly stole the idea for taking triggers from a group of friends from an interview with writer Greg Van Eekhout who has tried this before. It sounded like fun, so here goes. Thanks Greg!

Niche Game: Kingdom Hearts

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing mecause they’re something different, something special.

Kingdom Hearts is a parallel world story, with a twist. The game is a joint venture between Squaresoft and Disney, released in 2002 for the PS2. The main character, Sora, travels from world to world, and each of them will be very familiar, because each is the setting of a Disney movie, from the pride lands of The Lion King, Wonderland, and Neverland. Besides the worlds, there are also many cameos from Disney characters, and characters from Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy series.

The protagonist of the game is Sora, a fourteen year old boy. His friends Riku and Kairi also play important roles. At the beginning of the game they are all living on Destiny Islands, and they want to leave the islands to explore the world outside. One night, shadowy creatures appear, the Heartless. He discovers the magical Keyblade, which is his weapon throughout the game, a giant key that he wields like a sword. He’s separated from his friends as the Heartless destroy Destiny Islands.

Meanwhile, in another world, King Mickey (yes, the mouse), heads off to deal with the Heartless and sends his knight Goofy and his mage Donald to go find the key to stopping the Heartless. They seek out Sora, and join forces with him. You always control Sora directly, never his companions, but you can equip them, and set their behavior during battle. Donald’s attributes are based around magic, as he learns various spells as he levels up. Goofy’s primary weapon is a shield–yeah I know it’s weird. Though Sora technically carries the same Keyblade throughout the game, he can add different charms to it that will change it’s attributes drastically, changing the length, the appearance, the power, and even adding extra attributes like extra mana for abilities.

In each world, the Heartless take on new and varied forms which match their surroundings. So, in the pride lands they take the forms based loosely on African animals, in Neverland they often appear as pirates. I like this variation, all tied together by the “Heartless” logo they wear as a badge. Besides the minor Heartless enemies, each world generally has a big boss, also going along with the theme of that world. The objective of travelling through each world is to use the Keyblade to seal the keyhole, the heart of each world that the Heartless seek to destroy.

Different from most Squaresoft games, the fights in the game are real-time, though there is a menu item for performing actions like casting spells and using items. There are also hot-buttons to help speed up these side actions. You never control your two companions, all you can do is set their equipment and attributes. When visiting other worlds, sometimes a hero from that world will travel with you, and can temporarily replace either Goofy or Donald as your fighting companion. In addition, some characters are available as summon magic, where you call them up (Goofy and Donald temporarily disappear while this happens) to bestow some powerful effect and then disappearing. I liked the real-time aspect of the fighting system. It kept the game much more exciting from moment to moment, and much of the challenge is figuring out ways to defeat each unique type of enemy and dodging their attacks.

The one element of the game I wasn’t really impressed by was the Gummi ship. It’s your method of transportation between worlds. The transit ways are filled with enemies that attack you as you fly through Gummi space. You build your Gummi ship from scratch out of spare parts you find or buy along the way, including armor, weapons, radar, etc… It wasn’t that it was a bad element, but it just didn’t really seem to relate to the rest of the game that much and was just a diversion from the important parts–all the different worlds.

There’s quite a cast of voice actors for this game, including Haley Joel Osment, Hayden Panattiere, Billy Zane, and Lance Bass. They all did a really good job at their parts, making the characters seem real and helping to bring the game alive. Many of the Disney characters are voiced by the “official” Disney voice actors for each part.

The theme song, Simple and Clean, was composed and performed specifically for this game release by Hikaru Utada. I love the original version of the song, and the graphics of the sequence (though unfortunately with a remix instead of the original) at the beginning of the game just make it even more awesome to watch. When I first played the game I sometimes just watched them over and over to hear the song and see the sequence.

The plot is a reasonably good, though the main character is a bit corny at times. I loved to see the Disney villains working together across movies, Captain Hook and Maleficent, among others. Maleficent (from Sleeping Beauty) is one of my favorite villains of all time; I love her voice, her look, her power, everything about her. These villains were worked into the plot and blended seamlessly with the Squaresoft characters and the Heartless, despite their different animation styles.

Kingdom Hearts II was released in 2006 in the US, and used many of the same concepts, revisiting some of the same worlds as the first game, while expanding the ground covered. Despite their efforts to add fresh worlds and plot elements, it just came off as more of the same, so I give it a “meh,” despite the addition of Christopher Lee’s excellent voice acting abilities. It’s not a terrible game, and it was fun to see some of the new worlds they covered–such as Tron–but overall it just came off as more of the same to me.

Finding a copy of Kingdom Hearts shouldn’t be difficult at all, probably 10 bucks or less on eBay. It’s totally worth it. Enjoy!