Monday, August 14, 2017

(Almost) Saying Goodbye to My Favorite Comic Series Ever


I needed the luck of the Old Gods and the New to get into San Diego Comic-Con this year, but I did, for one glorious day. I've been to the convention a couple times before, each time a four day stint, so packing a long weekend's worth of geeking out into a sparse 8 hours (I also had to catch a plane that night) was quite the task. Needless to say, there was a list of priorities. On that list of priorities was the one thing I do every time I go to a comic convention: bum-rush the Archie booth for a con exclusive of my favorite comic of all time - Sonic the Hedgehog.

It's a fairly typical routine for me. Get into Comic-Con, find the Archie table, get the con exclusive, pray I get to meet Ian Flynn (I did back in 2013!), and then walk expeditiously to a panel I'm about to be late for. 

This time however, no amount of searching the exhibition floor led me to the Archie booth. The convention app said it was supposed to be where some other booth actually was, so I took to twitter. The start of all good things, I know.

Rather than helpful directions to an updated booth location, I stumbled across an official announcement by Archie that they were dropping the Sonic the Hedgehog comic. Cue supreme devastation.

Listen, I know the world is going to shit and that there are literal Nazis patrolling the streets. There are many worse things in life than never reading another 'hog comic again, but I grew up on those things and have been a lifelong fan, and so reading this news stopped me dead in the middle of a twenty thousand person crowd to stare at my phone and maybe cry a little.

My husband had to introduce me to a booth stacked with nothing but dice to make me smile again.

Seriously, look at that. The D&D player in me justifies every new set of dice with "it'll be perfect when I play that character."
Now this is the part of the post where if it hadn't been for the source checking I did this morning, I'd be going into a somber eulogy about how I started with a Princess Sally mini series when I was six or seven, how Sonic Comics have hugely influenced my writing with its love of action, cliffhangers, and contentious characters, and how Antoine and Bunny really are the OTP.

But - and this is why you double and triple check your info, kids - this morning, as I sat down to pen this tribute to the Blue Blur, I came across the best news ever: one day after I left comic con, IDW announced that Sega had granted it the license to the Sonic the Hedgehog comics. 

You sly bastard.
They're not dead! I mean, the Archie ones are dead, but the Sonic Comic isn't dead! Sure, they might be different. Sure, that means there's potential for disappointment, especially after leaving behind the publisher that fought constantly for a fan-adored 24 year run. But this is far better news than reaching The End, and a new publisher gives me hope for a strong revival.

As a person who was once a very young writer inspired by this franchise (and who still totally is), I'm stoked to see it continue. Comics are renowned for their tight storylines, but the Sonic ones in particular always drew me in with their grandiose plots about the fate of the world. That Sonic even found time to sleep between the deluge of catastrophe is quite impressive. The series taught little me a whole lot about building story, and as a reader, the comics are just pure, action-packed, beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully written badassery.

Looking forward to the new series, IDW. Let's do it to it. 

Oh, and Sonic Mania tomorrow! Woo!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

On The Black Witch and Calls for Censorship

I've had this post knocking around my head since Monday, when I first read that toxic YA twitter drama article. I've been thinking about how I would delicately state my opinion that every book should be read before it be judged, that fiction is a mirror to life, and how life has its ugliness and is not a bubble of protection from things we don't like, don't feel comfortable with, and don't agree with (just look at our current political climate).

I've thought about how to assert the fight against institutionalized racism, ableism, and homophobia that The Black Witch allegedly represents while also defending a fiction author's right to pen her world as she sees fit, through a fictional perspective she saw appropriate, no matter how rooted in a real world view it was.

How does one say fiction is important, fiction mirrors the real world, but also, fiction is fiction?

While fiction itself can be uncomplicated, its themes and portrayals often laid bare, interpretations of fiction are complex, subjective, and as many in number as there are people who read it (or who haven't, in this case).

Good fiction should challenge its readership, ask them questions, and confront them with ugly truths. It's great that passionate people rally behind or against a book's themes, sparking discussions about fiction's very real effects on people. What is worrisome however, is when these discussions turn to calling for the mass panning of, denouncement of, and censorship of a book, drawing a line for what they think should and should not be allowed within fiction.

As an author myself, and as someone who grew up reading a number of problematic books, some even school-assigned, I believe that everything should be fair game in fiction. 

I won't talk about The Black Witch specifically, as I haven't read it yet and don't want to presume too much based on articles and out-of-context quotes, but regardless of what this book does or doesn't do, my opinion is unchanged: fiction should be free to tell stories, even if those stories are about things that make us uncomfortable.

There are stories about child abuse, about alcoholics beating their spouses, about murderers and psychopaths and serial killers. There are stories that make us sympathize with these types of people. I recently read a book that contained a graphic rape scene - something I am incredibly uncomfortable with and fearful of - where the rapist felt justified raping a room full of young girls because of the atrocities those girls' fathers committed upon his people. I didn't like it. I was sickened by the justification and that a character I'd followed through hundreds of pages had to undergo the atrocity. But the book isn't endorsing rape. It isn't justifying rape. It's simply showing a character and saying look, in this fictional world - and maybe in ours - there are people like this, there are people who think like him one way or another, and look at the harm they do.

Fiction reflects the real world, and sometimes the real world isn't just. There are racists. There are sexists. There are bigots and animal abusers and rapists. Fiction is an exploration, and whether that fiction is about space wars, women gettin' it on with bears, or racism against werewolves, it should be allowed its freedom. Authors are not endorsing the acts of their fictional characters. They are telling stories, often about worlds as broken and unjust as ours.

That doesn't mean you have to like it. It doesn't mean you have to buy the book, nor recommend it to your friends. Criticize it if you've read it - that's your right as a consumer - but don't go after your peers for liking something you did not. Don't harass reviewers for having something positive to say. And certainly don't misconstrue the ugly part of the truth for being the whole truth in a piece of fiction.

I myself have not read The Black Witch, but just picked myself up a copy this morning. I'm not reading it to be defiant, or because I'm super excited to read a book about a racist character, but because no matter what side of the debate you fall on, this uproar is important. This piece of fiction is important. I'm looking forward to reading the book for myself and forming my own opinion on its themes.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Diary of a First-Time Dungeon Master

Creating my own classes to fit the Dragon Age universe can't be that hard. Surely it won't take over two weeks of my life.

On a roll. I have read through the entire spell list. I will only have to do this once.

How many hours have passed?

Oh. I am reading through the entire spell list again.

Blood Mages'll get proficiency in Charisma saving throws, plus they need it for a fat handful of their enchantment spells. It's weird, though. Somehow I don't see them as very charismatic.

Here we see a blood mage casting friends in DA2.

I wonder if I can get away with counting the Player's Handbook as a "book read" on Goodreads.

Seriously. It's 300 pages and I've read it twice.

Do you think those kinds of judgmental people exist? You know, the ones who when a friend's just-read book pops up on their feed, they scoff if it's like, a comic book? Because I've counted comic books before.When I fall behind on my reading goal, I'll read comics and count them as a separate book each and then I feel better about myself because it's like I read five books in a day and it only took an hour.

Am I a hack?

Templars in Dragon Age are bullshit. They're very clearly mages. Have you seen Holy Smite? According to D&D, all those smite and might and holy-jesus-juice powers are spells. Spells. Someone send a missive to the Chantry, because they're being duped.

The DM guide is also 300 pages.

I have spent eight hours on the Blood Mage class. It's like a wizard but there's blood now... I'm dead inside.

My DM-friend suggested some changes. I am now reading the spell list for the third time.

I watched an episode of Critical Roll and am fairly certain I'm outclassed.

I'm practicing accents now. I've mastered vaguely British-sometimes-suddenly-Irish and covering my panic through a stutter I'll blame on the low self-esteem of my NPCs.

The one warrior in the group rolled two 3s for his hit points.

He has less health than the Bard.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Actually, Video Games Are Just Fine With Story

A couple weeks ago, I came across this: Video Games Are Better Without Stories. The Atlantic's usual click-baity title did its job and drew me into an article ripe with pretension and a narrow, poorly researched opinion of the very subject matter it attempted to critique. There were a number of problems with this article, key among them the author's assertion that video games have been desperately trying and failing to be the "medium of the 21st century." If we're judging that coveted title by say, revenue, then the video game industry has outdone Hollywood, as an example, for the last several years, including 2016 (film brought in $38.6 billion in revenue globally last year, where video games brought in $91 billion). But with the rules for being "the medium of the 21st century" so poorly defined, it's hard to argue that point.

But I'm going to try putting all this reactionary angst aside. I don't want to just sit here and shit all over this article, despite my first reaction being very much that. 

I've heard Mr. Bogost's argument before, that games are better without stories, or similarly, that there is little point to a game telling a story, especially when one subjectively claims movies and books and TV do it better. I've heard these arguments between the lines of uproarious claims that video games aren't art, I've heard them from fellow writers when asked why I'd even bother pining to write for video games, and I'm seeing more popularity in these arguments now, in an era where one of my favorite developers has forsaken a history of epic stories in favor of trend-chasing that has left their recent titles sprawling, soulless, and frankly, not very fun (looking at you, Andromeda).

Video games are a big deal for me. They're my favorite hobby, a huge source of creative inspiration, and have told some of my favorite stories of all time. I think it's important to defend video games as a medium for spinning tales. Games aren't necessarily better with story (there are amazing games with little to no story out there) but games can tell incredible, impactful stories just as valid as other mediums.

The first question Mr. Bogost asks of his readers is: 

Are the resulting interactive stories really interactive, when all the player does is assemble something from parts?

According to him, the game industry has apparently - throughout it's history - been aspiring to create the Star Trek holodeck, a virtual world in which a user would have god-like influence (which would be a tall order even with procedural storytelling). So his idea of interactive isn't so much interactive as it is "perfectly-mirrored-to-life-simulation", and to claim video game stories aren't interactive because of this feels a little shallow, if not just a tad over-demanding.

The bottom line is this: if we're taking the definition of interactive to mean what it actually means, which is, unsurprisingly, not "the Holodeck from star Trek" but is instead:


--then yes, games are interactive, and they're the only medium to tell stories in an interactive way. Games do have varying levels of interactivity, that is true. Depending on the game in question, players could either be following a linear story-line, optionally seeking out more information, or they could be making constant choices that mold and shape the plot around them. Either way, given the definition, games are irrefutably interactive.

Moving on to the second part of Mr. Bogost's question: 

"Are the resulting interactive stories really interactive, when all the player does is assemble something from parts?"

My counter question is this: what's wrong with assembling something from parts? Why is that a knock against a well told story?

To fully understand what he means by his question, one must first understand the storytelling technique that he is attempting to critique: environmental storytelling. At the time of this writing, the article's link to environmental storytelling links back to the article itself (which I don't recommend as a source). I went ahead and googled the phrase, and the first result is an archived presentation by game developers Harvey Smith and Matthias Worch for the 2010 Game Developer's Conference.

The presentation defines environmental storytelling as such:

"Environmental Storytelling is the act of staging player space with environmental properties that can be interpreted as a meaningful whole, furthering the narrative of the game."
.”
And provides this as an example of environmental storytelling in action:


What's described is a critically common storytelling technique. If you don't recognize it, know that it often comes sold as "show, don't tell." 

It isn't enough - it isn't interesting - to simply tell the audience either through writing or through voice overs that the man tying his shoe isn't angry at his shoe at all, that he's instead upset that his boss gave the promotion to a dickhead rival instead of him, or that his wife has wrongfully cast him out of the house. This would be dull, if not just bad writing. It wouldn't pull the reader or watcher or player in, or make them curious. 

Assembling a greater meaning from parts, making things ambiguous and turning the story into a winding road of inference and deduction is what good writers do. It's why plot twists exit, it's why J.K. Rowling didn't say right off the bat: Snape is actually an alright guy, here's his detailed backstory in book 1.

We've already established that games are interactive through virtue of them being, you know, interactive, so why does assembling pieces make them less interactive? If anything, this assembly makes them more so.

The difference between video games and other storytelling mediums is that instead of reading or watching the puzzle unfold, you're tasked with putting the puzzle together yourself. Even in linear stories with little room for divergence like Bioshock, the player must actively seek out recordings to flesh out the sparse details given in cutscenes.

There's nothing wrong (there's actually a lot right) with assembling a greater meaning from parts, and doing so in the way Mr. Bogost critiques is - while not holodeck-esque - still definitely, certainly, unquestionably interactive.

So now that we've got that settled, I want to move on to his second question, one that I find to be much more thought-provoking than the first:

Why does this story need to be told as a video game?

This is a great question. Why are games a good medium for stories? Why would a writer agree to mold their story into a game instead of writing a book or a screenplay?

A key thing one learns when writing a story - something I had to learn myself - is that keeping readers invested is key. Your world-building may get you off at night, your characters may make you weep with joy, but if a reader doesn't agree, if a reader doesn't feel invested, then it doesn't matter. They won't read it. Or watch it.

Storytellers try to build empathy in their audience by creating characters who can be identified with, characters whose plights can be related to. Getting a reader invested is one of the hardest challenges in writing a good story. Why would the reader want to stick around? What's in it for them?  

One of the most common critiques a writer can receive is that characters are unrelatable. If characters aren't relatable, if they can't be empathized or sympathized with, no one will care if that character is hurt, or if they don't reach their goals, or if they do reach their goals. And if the reader doesn't care, the story loses impact.

Video games are great at building investment, because you are the character. You control the character. Sometimes you literally have the ability to create a character - make it look like you, make them make choices you would make. 

Even in linear stories where you're simply steering the character through a pre-made, immovable plot, you're driving the character forward. You're steering them through the world and assembling that environmental puzzle into the greater whole. Sometimes games even break the fourth wall, and touch on our world by literally making you the player character. Controlling these avatars puts you in the driver's seat, invites comparison, pulls you in, and creates investment. And when you're invested, when you're immersed, stories can have impact.

It's similar to that feeling when reading a book or watching a movie, that ability to vicariously live through another and escape into a different world. The difference with games is that instead of staring and watching, I'm doing.

Of course, this is coming from a place of bias. For me, games are fun. It's a valid medium to tell stories, yes, but more importantly, I derive satisfaction from stories told in this way. It's my opinion, much like the opinion of those who don't like to read, or don't watch TV. People enjoy getting their stories from certain mediums, and not others. 

So Mr. Bogost (and anyone else who's never been drawn in by game stories), maybe video games just aren't your cup of tea. There's not going to be a lot I can say to change that, but I can recommend some better titles for you to play. If you want to play some games that wouldn't matter if not for their story, consider giving these a try:

The Last of Us


This game is a prime example of environmental storytelling. The player is told a linear story, but has the opportunity to find notes and other items that expand it. Even the world itself contributes heavily to the tale. Environmental storytelling it may be, it is still one of the best told game stories of all time. Sure, you're on rails, but the game opens with a gripping sequence of events that pulls you in as sure as any great book, and the complex relationships between its characters are a master class in character development and rising tension.

SOMA


Despite containing a few key player choices, SOMA is another mostly linear story. But unlike the Last of Us, SOMA is a cerebral tale with little action. It insists on the player questions about humanity, consciousness, and whether immortality is worth it without our fleshy forms. Played in first person and told in an environment dripping with Lovecraftian, sci-fi horror, you're made to feel as if you're the character, and must confront your own ideas about what makes someone truly alive.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR)


Have you ever wanted to be a Jedi? How about a Sith? KOTOR is rightfully one of the most coveted RPGs to date, in large part because of its roleplaying and story choices. You start by crafting your character from scratch, everything from what they look like, to their background, to how strong or intelligent they are. And once you're in the game, your avatar is thrown right into a Star Wars tale comparable to the original trilogy. You can choose whether to follow the way of the light side or dark side, whether you're kind to your companions or not, whether your character is out to make a profit or save lives, and so much more.

Dragon Age: Origins


This is my favorite game on this list, and has been in my top five favorite games since first beating it several months after its release in 2009. Made by the same company who created KOTOR, Dragon Age's story - and the ability for the player to influence that story - is enormous. You can start with one of six origin stories, playing through a good hour of plot entirely unique to your character. That origin story comes back time and time again, whether in characters berating you for being an elf, or fearing you for being a mage, or perhaps honoring you for being a noble. The variations in plot outcomes in this game are staggering. You can end your tale as anything from a corpse to a freaking Queen. Every plot point has multiple paths and lasting consequences, some that reach out even into the game's sequels. I have beaten this at least five times, and every time, I've seen something different.

(Note: if you prefer Sci-fi to fantasy, give Mass Effect a try. The original, not Andromeda. Dragon Age beat out Mass Effect for me, but ME still has a lot of what makes Dragon Age awesome, but is a space opera instead.)

Undertale


Undertale is an indie game developed by one badass dude over the course of five years, and it has one of the best stories ever told in the medium. Literally every choice - who you visit, where you go, how you defeat your enemies - has an impact on the plot. It's possible to kill main characters, it's possible to kill ALL the main characters, and the occasional fourth wall breaks drive home the point that you ARE the character in this tale. Add to that the enchanting soundtrack, the touching theme, and the amazingly well developed characters, and this game is a prime example of why story should exist in games.

The above are just a small smattering of games made better by story. Sure, there are those who won't ever appreciate games, or the stories within them, but that opinion doesn't detract from the fact that games are a valid storytelling medium, and that their developers should just keep on keeping on with all that story goodness they're doing.

Readers, what games did I miss? What are your top five game stories?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Author Interview: H.T. Lyon

Hi all, and welcome to this month's author interview! Today I'm interviewing aspiring author and science fiction aficionado, H.T. Lyon!

Tabitha: Hey, H.T., thanks for joining me! To start us off, what are your ambitions for your writing career?

H.T.: My ambitions are to get a core of readers that like what I write. I don't need to be a best seller (though it would be nice), I don't need to be traditionally published. All I want is for me to think I make other people happy and their lives a little richer. All in all, I think that's an achievable goal and probably a very reasonable one. 

T: Definitely an attainable, smart, and humble goal, for sure. What drew you to write science fiction in the first place? 

H.T.: I like the thought that, as a species, we have a future. It seems with biological organisms the rule is expand or contract. If we are to have a positive future, we need to expand beyond our planet and into our neighbourhood. I also like the way science fiction allows for me to change the setting enough to question our underlying assumptions about the world that we live in. Are we heading the right direction, where could we go? What is the natural end game for a particular technological advancement or how could it change our society. 

T: What role does diversity play in your writing process?

H.T.: Diversity has a big role when I write. If I am truly trying to make people think about the society they live and and question assumptions, then I need to create worlds where it's not all the white guys getting stuff done. I don't dwell heavily on a character's gender or nationality as I recognize that underneath, we are all human. I am really trying to create works that provide assertive role models for women and minorities. 

T: Do you read outside the science fiction genre? 

H.T.: I do but not too far. I read YA which often enough is close enough to science fiction as to be considered a mere variant. Things like Divergent and The Hunger Games which attempts to ask questions but more around growing up. I have read a few romances and for some reason was rather taken by a series by Barbara Freethy, a self published author who has entered the mainstream. I'll also read topical books and have managed to get the rough the first book of Fifty Shades of Grey. I hope this makes me a more balanced writer. 

T: Nice! Finally, what advice would you give to your younger self? 

H.T.: Write early and write often. Have fun. Write fan fiction. There's nothing special about writing and I could have done this years ago. That's the advice I'd give. Oh, yes, and stick with going to the gym.

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Readers! You can check out more from H.T. Lyon on his blog!
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About H.T. Lyon:

I am aspiring writer of science fiction. A futurist with a keen interest in where our society is heading, I tend focus most of my attention on stories that examine the direction our society is taking or that shows where we could end up. Optimistic my nature, I believe that one day we will look to settle the Solar System as we outgrow our planet and some of my stories examine how this could look. Currently, I have a number of novels underway and some short stories. My aim is to get one of these up and published before the end of the year around the other commitments that exist in my life.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Problem With "The Problem" of Strong Female Characters

A couple weeks ago I was browsing reddit when I came across this post: "when you write a female character and she is strong just because she is just like a dude, you kill the whole point of writing a female character."

Yeah. Today we're gonna talk about that. *cracks knuckles*

Now I've written about what I believe is the core tenet of writing strong female characters before, and I'll continue asserting that while also talking about gender roles, identity, and genderization. Specifically, I'm gonna talk about what it's like to be a person who embodies many of the things that are supposedly "killing the whole point" of a strong female character.

Because what people really mean when they say things like this is that women who "act like dudes" are therefore dudes, not women at all. What they're saying is that the character isn't "womanly" enough to be a strong female character. They might as well just be men.

I've seen it a million times. Writers and readers alike blast the beer-drinkin', videogame-playin', sport-excellin' lady character for being too much like a man. She's unrealistically, physically strong. She swears. She picks fights. In fantasy worlds where combat's often a given, she solves her problems with violence instead of a quick whip of her healer's staff.

Basically this:


A strong female character ought to be strong in the womanly sense, you see. A protective, caring mother perhaps - a role model for her children. They should at least be "realistically" weaker than men, beating their strong, masculine enemies with women's intuition and just a little bit of being kidnapped.

A strong female character shouldn't be physically superior to a man, or daydream about gunplay instead of space charity work, or get aggro in an ogre's face because Gods, that ogre deserved it, because women don't do those things.

Except, you know, we do.

I am one of those women who could be considered "dudely." I've played sports all my life, guzzle beer with the best of them, have been called dyke and butch and she-man for beating someone down in Gears of War, and if I lived in a fantasy world, chances are I would pull an Arya Stark (awesome example of a strong female character) over a Cersei Lannister (ALSO an awesome example of a strong female character. Don't be confused. I'll explain.)

It's personally meaningful to see "dudely" women represented, women who would make similar choices to me, women who would choose the way of the sword or respond to violence with self-defense instead of rolling a persuasion check

But it turns out that many people see these personalities as too masculine, therefore robbing women of actual representation. This sort of begs the question: why are things like taking charge and joining in on combat "male activities?


Summer: "Oh right. Because there's something about having a wiener that would make me better at walking through a hole?

One may cite humanity's history as reason enough for this, but how does that explain someone like Jeanne de Clisson, a 14th-century French noblewoman who sold her estates and took to the seas to be a pirate in arms against the French King who wrongly took her husband's life? How about Lady Fu Hao of the Shang Dynasty, or goddamn freaking Boudica?

While history certainly supports the notion that a majority of women were in traditional roles, and that mostly men took on combat and leadership roles, this only proves that it was traditional (due in large part to societal constructs) and has nothing to do with a woman's ability - or even desire - to do these things.

So does it really make someone less of a woman to participate in an activity or have a personality more predominantly associated with the opposite gender?

These questions aren't just asked of female characters, but of real women. I can attest to being judged for just my appearance - for my lack of makeup, for my hate of dresses, for my pokemon-themed t-shirts and jeans. But there are also women who rock their makeup, who rock their dresses, who embrace their femininity, and they're judged, too. They're called "slut" or "vapid" or "probably a prissy bitch." And this is just clothes I'm talking about; let's not even jump in to what it's like to be a girl gamer (or developer, by god), or a professional female athlete (paid how much less?). 

Credit to @rasenth Full comic here (it's worth your time).
 
In many ways, I feel like the reason writers at large still struggle with the strong female character is that we're still struggling with respecting and understanding women's identities in real life. 

To highlight this, why don't we have a Weak Male Character? Why don't we scrutinize and categorize what male characters are allowed to be? Why is it male characters can be anything - dudely, not dudely, and be free from this kind of dialogue? They're always a man at the end of the day. But women characters... Are they womanly enough? Are they strong enough? Are they too motherly? Are they too dudely?

The need for strong female characters rose out of a lack of representation in popular fiction. We never asked for these representations to be physically strong - just strong characters. But it turns out, there is such a thing as a physically strong character, who is also a strong character in the literary sense. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Writers need to understand that women come in a variety of different flavors, just like men. There are fit women and weak women and angry women and calm women and polite women and rude women, and guess what? They're all women. 

You might read about a woman who doesn't fit your idea of a woman. Maybe she doesn't act like you - as a woman - would, but that's why we need all sorts of women represented in fiction. 

So you writers out there penning the next Xena, or the badass Wonder Woman - you keep doing what you're doing.

And for everyone who ever wonders if their character - male or female - is strong, here's a quick checklist for ya:
  • Give them agency
  • Give them personal stakes
  • Make them make choices that affect the plot 

(I mentioned at the beginning, but just in case: I totally wrote an article all about writing strong female characters. Hope you check it out! Or not, that's fine, too...)

Cheers!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Author Interview: Imogen Keeper

Hello and welcome to another Blog World Tour interview! This month, I'm excited to be interviewing Imogen - to me, Immy - Keeper!

Tabitha: Hi, Immy! Thanks for joining me for a few questions. To start, where do you get your inspiration?
Imogen: No clue. Seriously. I don't know. I think my head is just kind of soupy and everything I see, or watch, or read gets dumped into the pot and then later on, when I start writing... the soup comes out? That's a really weird metaphor, but I'm not really a writer by premeditation. Mostly, it's an organic process and the writing just sort of flows right out of my fingers... until I start editing and then the hard work begins.

T: Heh, I actually rather like the soup metaphor. Do you do your own editing?

I: Initially? Yes. I obsessively read each chapter. A hundred times. And my review circles pour over it and fine tune it. But the end product? No. I don't trust myself. It would be typo-city and I just don't see the mistakes. So I have a very trusted editor who I adore. And she gets the final say.

T: Where do you write?

I: Wherever I am. I wish I had a nice office with a comfy chair, but I've got two kids and there's never enough time. So I cobble together snippets of time as I have them and just make it work. Right now, mostly, I write in the family room on the sectional with my computer in my lap.  Someday, I'll get that office with a desk and a comfy chair.

T: Us writers are always hoping for the comfiest chair. Okay, so, tell us about your latest main character.

I: I've been working on a character named Klymeni. She's been surprising me, to be honest. I started with her, expecting her to be pretty fluffy and to get stronger with the story, but she sort of refused to be fluffy for long. She's got a lot of inner strength. She didn't have to use it before the story began, but now, she keeps rising to the occasion, surprising both me and the MMC.

T: Do you have any advice for new writers?

I: Oh my gosh, no. I couldn't even begin. If I could go back and give myself advice... it would be to start writing immediately. Not to wait, to stop drowning in doubt and insecurity. Just write. And get on social media earlier. 

T: Sounds like good advice to me! Thanks for the interview, Immy!

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Readers! You can check out Immy's book, The Bonding, over on Amazon! Don't forget to follow her on Facebook and Twitter, too.
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Immy's Bio

I’m Imogen Keeper. But please, call me Immy. I’m from the East Coast, born and raised and back here now with my husband and our son, who is a handful and a half.

I discovered writing when he was about six months old. It was something I’d always dabbled at in the past, but never really put on my serious hat. So, bored at home with a kid who truly took magnificent naps, I started studying up on the how-to’s and the how-not-to’s of writing. With about six active works in progress, I decided to knuckle down and focus on one.

It made me blush, and it made me sweat, and it made me cry a few times, but The Bonding came out. I had to get over the embarrassment of having people read sex that came out of my head, but get over it I did.

My first novel was just published, and I have to admit, I’m proud of it. Dirty sex and all.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Fan Friday # 1 - Rokkir Saga Book Two Update With a Dash of Magball

I have a lot of awesome fans. Since releasing Overshadowed last March, I've received fan mail, kind comments in regards to the book here on Story Geek, and even some glowing reviews that made me blush and then wonder what book the reviewer mistook for my own.

Writing is hard work, and nothing is as motivating or heartwarming as seeing people enjoy the content I create. So to everyone who's supported me by reading my crazy story: thank you!

This here brand-spankin' new Fan Friday is for you guys! I wanted to do something fun for anyone waiting on the next installment of the Rokkir Saga. So, every now and then, I'm going to put up a Fan Friday post with stuff like deleted scenes from book one, updates on the sequel, sneak peeks, maybe a flash giveaway or two, and more!

It's my small way of saying thank you for being along for the ride. :)

And to start us off, I've got a progress update on Rokkir Saga Book Two!
That there is a snapshot of the completed first draft, taken earlier this month! Last year, someone asked for a publication date for Rokkir 2, and I optimistically said sometime early 2017. The astute among you can probably guess this isn't going to happen. :) While I'm hesitant to offer up another estimate, I can say that progress is being made, and you can expect more updates soon. 

Until then, I'd love to hear from you! What do you all want to see in the second book? What answers are you dying for? Who do you want to see more of, or maybe even less of? I've kept a loose eye on feedback and reviews over the last year, and I'm working hard to make this a book fans of the first will love.

But, I do have some goodies for you now.

I've extracted for your reading pleasure a couple deleted scenes from Overshadowed's first draft, then called Rokkir Rises. I finished the draft in 2012, so the writing is even more abysmal than usual. Despite my desire to edit it to death before posting, in vain of keeping Rokkir's history alive and showing the reality of the iterative writing process, I'm keeping it mostly preserved (I just couldn't forgive some semi-colon uses. I just couldn't.).

The deleted scenes revolve around magball, Tayel's all-time favorite sport and hobby. I've interrupted the text in places to add in random comments or explanations, and I hope this gives you some insight into the characters, plot, and writing process! I'd love for this to be something YOU GUYS like, so let me know if this is working for you or not. Without further ado...

Rokkir Saga Book One - Overshadowed - Deleted Scenes


Tayel hissed as her opponent’s baton cracked against her fingers. Instantly they began to throb, each pump of blood sending sharp pain up her arm. The crowd went wild with demands for a foul. 
_______________________________________

So this scene is from the good old days - one of Tayel's 
magball games before the Rokkir invaded Delta. 
_______________________________________
She needed to keep this ball. There were only two minutes left in the game, and it was all tied up. If she dropped it now—
The same player who’d managed to hit her everywhere but her padding the entire game actually managed a clean hit to her baton, and another opponent got around behind her. Baddie number two locked the staff of her baton in the curved hook of his, and the ball popped out in the fray.  Xite.
She tugged, but couldn’t free herself, and the master of aiming scooped the ball off the dirt and ran toward her team’s goal to an explosion of cheers and boos from the viewers on the benches.
           Tayel had to get out of the other guy’s grip if she had any chance of stopping the forward assault. She tried a different maneuver than before, but her opponent stopped it easily.  She tugged again, then when he leaned into the pull, she pushed quickly forward and twisted her baton around so it came free.
           She took a moment to enjoy his incredulous look before taking off in a sprint down the field.
“Jerry get your behind moving!” she yelled to her teammate. “Stay on four!”
She finally got to the heart of the action, where her poor defenders had been shot on one too many times. “Marco! Block six’s view! Evass, go mid, watch for the back pass!”
           Tayel watched in horror as her team's back defender  ran out toward the opposing ball carrier. Another opposing player ran down the line, ready for a pass. In a boost of adrenaline, Tayel darted the distance to that player’s location, not needing to guess what would happen next. She turned around intercept the inevitable pass.
    The ball snapped into her baton to a roar of cacophonous cheers.
           “Evass!” she tossed the ball expertly over her opponent’s head, then sprinted past. “Here again!”
She caught Evass’ pass, making her way up the field. She dove out of an angry opponent’s way, rolling to the ground and onto her feet.
“Marco!” She passed.
The ball came back to her just as she went over the midline. And now, which Forward looked the most ready to score?
           She let the ball fly from her baton just as another player caught up to her. The girl Tayel passed to was barely opposed as the other team had sent everyone up for the attack. She shot and scored just as the timer ticked down to zero.
The cheers from the small crowd of forty or so parents and family friends were loud and elated, but no one would get to see their children until the after-match “friendlies” had occurred.
           Tayel got in line behind the others on her team, though it wasn’t much of a line. Most everyone was crowding around the girl who had scored the final goal.
           “You’re amazing!”
           “MVP! MVP!”
           “You are single-handedly the best Mag player I’ve seen!”
           Tayel was used to this, but she still sighed. The referee politely asked her team to maintain a line, then moved them along. It had been a good match. Tayel hoisted her battered baton over her shoulder as she started moving, shaking hands with her opponents before pushing through the crowd to find the portion of the audience that was her own. For their part, they were never hard to find.
           “Tayel!” Jace all but tackled her into a hug. “You were amazing!” He looked over her shoulder as the girl who scored was lifted into the air and celebrated. His smile turned a little weaker. “Defense is more valuable, I think.”
_______________________________________

When I was crafting Tayel's character, I knew defense had to be a big
part of her value. She's strategic, and thinks things through, and 
a lot of that comes from her time spent playing magball as a defensive
player. I grew up playing sports, and one thing I've noticed is how
(relatively) unappreciated good defensive plays are, and how important
those can be for winning games. Everyone loves the quarterback, the shooter, etc.,
because their plays do technically put points on the board. For Tayel's part,
she doesn't mind the "Forwards" getting the glory. Her self-confidence in her role
is what later allows her to become one of Shy's strongest, most supportive allies.   
_______________________________________

           “Hey, I always say the best offense is an offensive defense,” she said. “Hey Jerry,” she called to her teammate, “did you put bricks in your pants this game or were you just competing to be the slowest?”
           “Good game to you too, Tayel!” Jerry hollered.
           “Funny,” Jace said dryly. “Offensive defense. That’s pretty good.”
           “Yeah, well, I try.”
           “Great game, kiddo,” Otto said, approaching with the rest of Tayel and Jace’s families.
Tayel caught eyes with her mom and they gathered each other into a hug while everyone continued to chat.
           “Enjoy the game?” Tayel asked.
           “Mm, not as much as I just enjoyed that sweaty hug,” Mom joked.
“Well drat,” Otto said, “You should be the one in the air right now! Ya won the damn game yourself!”
“She really should be,” Mom said, looking at Tayel with pride before a smirk grew on her face. “Though it’s not like your head isn’t usually in the clouds anyway.”
           “Boo, mom.”  Tayel crossed her arms.
           “Welp,” Otto started, taking a step back from the happily chatty group. “It was great seeing you play as always, kiddo.”
           “Aw, not coming to dinner this week?” Jace asked.
           “Nope. Got myself some errands to run down here in the lower Sector. Shame though, I know—especially for me! I hate missing Nita’s cooking!”
           Mom giggled. “It’s funny because he can’t eat her cooking,” she whispered to Tayel.
    Tayel sighed.
           “So take care of yourselves everybody,” Otto said. “I’m sure I’ll see you soon.”
**************************
At Jace’s apartment, Tayel set up like she normally did on his bed, laying down to watch the show in the theater that was his room. To everyone but him, it was a disaster zone. Computer parts littered the floor and tumbled over the shelves, spare coils of wire and extension cords hung by hooks in the walls. His desk was a clutter of computer screens and hundreds of different sized nuts and bolts and pieces of scrap metal. Clothes, trading cards, and action figures littered the floor - some in piles, some spread about randomly - and a clutter of flexi-screens covered the walls.
Tayel always teased him for how his room was a strange combination between a mad scientist’s and a ten year old boy’s.
           Jace made room on his desk to place his trading card collection. He opened the hard album cover and found a plastic sheet, putting the cards he’d bought from Otto’s shop the night before into individual slots. As he did this, Tayel remembered the flexi she’d been given and dug it out of her bag. As her and Jace began to discuss his obsession with trading cards, she peeled off the tape keeping the tubular capsule lid closed and opened it, dumping the image into her hand.
           “Besides,” Jace continued, feathers puffed, “I can have a hobby—a collector’s hobby. It’s not that childish. I mean, Jerry’s dad collects rocks and how nerdy is that?”
           There was a pause. Tayel looked up from the glowing city of Zealot at Jace. “About as nerdy as collecting just about anything else.”
           He glared at her for half a second, then continued as if nothing had happened. “And he is way older than me,” he said, “So I don’t know why so many people think my collection is so funny. I shouldn’t be teased—“
           “You aren’t being teased,” Tayel said.
           “Or lose friends—“
           “Everyone loves you—“
           “Because of my collection!”
           Tayel just smiled as Jace stared at her dishearteningly. “Did someone on one of your net forums call you out, Jace?”
           He looked flustered for a moment, then shrugging his shoulders outrageously, admitted, “Yes!” He threw his talons in the air with an exasperated noise and picked up his album. He walked it over to his collection shelf. “You must be getting a real chop out of this, huh?”
           “I sure am,” she agreed, crossing one leg over the other and puffing the pillow she was using as a back rest.
           There was a knock on the door as Jace was preparing a rebuttal and Nita poked her head inside. “Dinner’s ready you two.”
           Deriving a comeback was no longer a priority for Jace, who hurried Tayel out of bed so they could get to the table. There was no argument there; Mag games always starved her. She had already eaten about half the appetizer by herself as it was and she still could happily eat more. It didn’t help that Nita’s cooking was phenomenal either. Sometimes she couldn’t tell if her favorite part of Saturdays were the Mag games or the amazing food.
           At the table was that lively Saturday evening chit chat Tayel wouldn’t trade for anything. They passed family style plates stacked with food around the table. Though still not huge, the meal looked divine. Combined with Mom and the Azenforth’s incomes, they were able to make that one night a week just amazing enough that they could all pretend they were part of the upper class. Their plates were topped with canned meat still, yes—not the real thing—but the vegetables were fresh, a luxury for them, and there was even fruit juice. Tayel’s stomach growled in anticipation but she knew it wasn’t proper to start eating, so she sat patiently waiting as the last leek was pulled from the serving platter.
           “Jace, would you lead us in prayer?” Arcen asked warmly.
           “Sure, Dad.” Jace closed his eyes and bowed his head.
           Tayel did the same. She wasn’t religious like the Azenforths. It was hard to believe there was a magical land beyond the grave that catered to every need if one was good in their lifetime. It was much easier to believe in the Cyborn’s theory of the Black Rest. Despite all this, it just felt respectful to follow along while at their table.
Mom never participated though, something Tayel was reminded of as she took just a moment to open an eye at her. Mom smiled back. Her hands weren’t together, nor her head bowed or eyes closed, but she sat in silence and waited for the end of the prayer. The Azenforths were respectful of her choice, and she was respectful of Tayel’s to participate. With all of this comradery before her, it was hard for Tayel to believe that there was so much religious hate still left in the galaxy.
_______________________________________

Religion played a MUCH bigger role in the original draft. The Rokkir's
invasion was actually a sort of religious conquest. While Jace is still subtly
religious in the final version of Overshadowed, I cut religion as a major theme.
After getting to know the Rokkir and their plight better while writing, it
just didn't fit their MO.    
_______________________________________

           “May Alhyt’s light always guide us,” Jace finished, and those participating repeated the line as well.
           Then it was time to eat, and Tayel took no time to dig in. She ate the vegetables first. The leeks and wild onions were covered in a delectable sauce that accented the freshness perfectly. These were so unlike the overly salted or far too oily vegetables that she so often had from cans. What was on her plate came straight from the upper Sector’s interplanetary trade market.
           “Slow down, sweetie,” Mom laughed. “You’re making it look like I don’t feed you.”
           Tayel did slow down then, half to appease her mom and half to reflect on a moment of clarity. She sighed inwardly, looking at the smiling faces exchanging stories and jokes around her. For all her thoughts of leaving home and exploring the galaxy, there was one thing she would always be sure to miss. This was her family. Not all of them by blood, but by bond. And though this realization would never halt her dream of leaving Delta, it felt empowering to know that she always had these smiling faces to come back to. She met eyes with Mom and smiled. Maybe in the end, if it all worked out, Tayel could take her off planet too.
           “I love you,” she mouthed silently.
Mom winked and whispered, “Olive juice,” just loud enough for Tayel to hear. She was half surprised her mom didn’t lean over and say: “It’s funny because it looks like I said ‘I love you’.” It was almost more meaningful than hearing “I love you” back. Her mom was a charmer.
           “And so I told her,” Arcen went on, Tayel finally focusing on the rest of the conversation, “That if she wanted a better program she might as well use the bugs—they’re so advanced they could be features themselves!”
           Nita and Jace started laughing their heads off, Jace even going so far as to lean back until he nearly fell out of his chair. Tayel just shook her head with a thoughtful smile; she never had to guess where her best friend got his nerdiness from.
_______________________________________

I wish I could have kept some of these earlier scenes, because I love Tayel and
Jace's self-made "family." The first draft had a much longer beginning before the
Rokkir launched their invasion, but it was a little too cliche for my early readers.
Tayel woke up, went to school, went to Otto's pawn shop (which was originally in
the Upper Sector), and had a real "slice of life" couple of chapters before 
the big kaboom.  
_______________________________________

           The laughter was just quieting down when Jace suddenly perked up, his eyes widening and his feathers standing up. He gripped the edge of the table and looked bewilderedly at his mom.
           “Mom?” he asked, voice shockingly fearful.
           Tayel thoughtlessly put a hand on his wing, concern flooding through her. “Jace?”
           Nita went through the same stages as Jace, her eyes growing large as she realized something that everyone else at the table was failing to notice. She reached her talon across the table to take her son’s, then put the other to her head. “Alhyt…the aether…” She turned to Arcen. “It’s so strong.”
_______________________________________   

What's happening here is that my aetherions used to be able to sense
large gatherings of aether, and this signaled the start of the invasion.
 It was a much more intertwined connection between all the aetherions 
and the elements they could harness. I axe'd that particular talent. 
_______________________________________

           ******************************
_______________________________________   

This next scene happens long after Delta, during Tayel, Shy, Fehn, and this time, 
*Jace's* first fuel heist. In the original draft, Jace decided to go along with everyone
rather than running away to eventually be abducted by the Rokkir.
_______________________________________

Shy hoisted up a matte black case half as tall as she was. “I wanted to show you this.”
           “What is it?” Tayel asked.
    Shy set the case in the grass and opened it up. A magball baton rested inside.
    “What, we going to play a game?”
    “No,” Shy said. “We’re going to start training.”
           “Training?” Jace asked.
           “Well sure.” She looked very seriously at both of them. “You do understand that Modnik is a warzone? Your friend was right about that. You need to learn how to fight.”
           Jace’s eyes fell downcast. He shifted a bit, and clicked his talons together.“But what does magball have to do with anything?” Tayel pushed.
    “Not familiar with the history that created your sport?”
    “No, I’m fully aware, but…” She realized what Shy meant as she spoke. “Oh.”
    Fehn joined them, wiping his hands on his coat. “Fuel’s in. What are we talking about?”
    “Training,” Jace grumbled.
    “Magball,” Shy corrected.
    Fehn peeked boredly into the case, unimpressed. He shrugged. “What about it?”
           Shy nodded toward Tayel. “I’m trying to discern if Tayel here can use any weapon whatsoever, or if we’ll all be making up for her lack of ability when we hit Modnik.”
           Tayel gaped. “Wait, you really want me to fight serpents and zomborgs with a magball baton?” She frowned. “I suppose if they all dressed in uniform and played by the rules, I’d have a chance.”
           “That is a little dumb, Bahni,” Fehn yawned.
_______________________________________   

"Bahni" was Fehn's nickname for Shy, which was essentially the
equivalent of "little shit" in Imperial slang. Both demeaning AND insulting!
_______________________________________

           “Do none of you realize how powerful these were seven hundred years ago?” Shy asked. “This technology won the current day empire a lot of wars.”
_______________________________________   

The timeline in this draft is very different than the official canon timeline. 
_______________________________________

           “You’re kidding.”
    “She’s not,” Jace said. “Although the stories make it seem more important than they were. A lot of factors played into the empire’s rise to--”
“Hey,” Tayel interjected, “the stories are the best part! Who wants to hear about boring manufacturing and war strategy?”
“Historians?”
Tayel was about to sass back when Fehn asked, “What stories?”
“Story, really,” Shy said. “There’s a popular one about Brokir and Mjolnir.”
_______________________________________   

Norse Mythology played a big role in the original construction of Overshadowed.
There are still a lot of allusions to it, though not as overt. The concept of the Rokkir
actually derives from Pagan stories of what came before the gods of Asgard and
the giants.
_______________________________________

“Who and who, now?”
    Looking at the sky, she said, “It looks we have enough spare time to give you a little mythology lesson.”
           “Joy.”
    “Don’t worry, I’ll give you the primary school version.”
    He crossed his arms, doing his best to look unoffended.
           “The entire sport of magball originated from these batons, then called hammers,” Shy said. “And the original hammer was called Mjolnir. The tale goes that a huge population of Titan was ruled by a vile King, obsessed with his own power. He was a master aetherion, an adept warrior, and a renowned expert in almost every weapon known to humans.
           “He became so arrogant, and so peeved by those who claimed they could rule the Kingdom better, that he proposed a challenge. Anyone who could beat him in combat would become the new King, he said, and offered up this challenge to all in the land. Those who brought in melee weapons—even master trainers—were hopelessly destroyed. Some brought in bows, but were only allowed one arrow, and the King wore strong armor and a helmet that resisted projectiles.”
    “Sounds like he deserved his throne if people were stupid enough to play by those rules,” Fehn said.
    “When they fired their one allowed shot,” Shy continued, “the doors were blocked and the King executed the bowman. Over time, attempts at taking the throne ceased. But one boy, Brokir, whose father was slain while challenging the King, swore to kill the unfair ruler, and set to work on creating the greatest weapon of all. A weapon that only needed one projectile, and that no armor could resist. He worked for ten years to create Mjolnir, and when he was done, he sent the King a challenge request, offering up not only his life, but his estate should he lose.
“The King of course, could not resist another challenge, and invited Brokir into his hall, where the royal guard inspected Mjolnir. At first they refused his entry. They showed the peculiar weapon to the King, and as he was arrogant, he said that nothing, not even that strange weapon could defeat him. Brokir was allowed just the one steel ball, aether crystals inside, and allowed entry to the throne room.
           “The King sat on his throne, wearing his impenetrable armor with a smile. He told Brokir to do as he would, and Brokir swung the baton at a great speed, the ball flying straight and true. It collided with the King’s armor in a splendid crash, but it wasn’t enough to break through. The King laughed as the guards blocked off the door, and he descended the steps from his throne with sword in hand to slay the blacksmith. But Brokir drew the aether through the baton, and to the King’s surprise the steel ball flew past him and right into the cup of the weapon. Then Brokir launched the ball again, and this time, the armor shattered.
           “The King, infuriated, charged Brokir with his mighty sword, but Brokir was too fast. He flew the ball back to the cup and swung with the baton, the ball’s weight inside the crevice cracking down hard upon the cruel King’s sword, shattering it as it had his armor. Brokir rose his baton again, and the King fell, defeated, to his knees.”
           “Then Brokir did what every hero does and spared his life, right?” Fehn asked.
           Tayel smiled. “Actually, this is the best part.”
           “Brokir smashed his head in,” Shy said with an equally enthusiastic smile. “He was so vengeful and full of long held grief at his father’s death that he smashed the King to a pulp and ordered the cooks to use it in a stew.”
           Fehn’s eyes widened.
           Tayel continued, “He ordered that the stew be fed to all who blindly served such a cruel-hearted man. Then he fired them all.” She laughed. “Best story ever, right?”
           “It’s definitely got the plot twist down.”
           “But that’s just the story,” Shy said. “In reality, the hammers were mass produced for those who could use the aether, and were deadly weapons. Eventually, and over time, it stopped being weaponized and evolved into a sport. But at one point, they were the pinnacle of weapons technology for humans.” She gestured to Tayel. “And I think they can be again, in a magball player’s capable hands.”
--------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

And that concludes our first Fan Friday! I hope you had a fun time reading through some deleted material! Let me know what else you might like to see in these Fan Fridays, and I'll be sure to come up with more soon. Plus more book 2 progress updates!