Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Winding Road... leads to Bodie?

Today is the last day of the Kickstarter campaign for "The Good, the Bad, and the Undead," and it has been a long and rewarding road.

Coming up next, I find myself looking forward to the last stages of writing the novel and developing the rpg. Unfortunately, creative time has been in short supply lately, with my main project having become managing the Kickstarter campaign myself. Now I'm looking back at my story notes, looking at where I left off, and thinking about moving to the climactic finale of the book.

After all the excitement lately, we've been considering a vacation, and this may be the perfect opportunity to go soak in a little Old West atmosphere.

I've discovered an old ghost town here in California called Bodie. It's not Texas, but it's about the best I can do at the moment. Actually, it turns out that one of the inspirational images we've used for art for "The Good, the Bad, and the Undead," are actually pics that came from Bodie!

Recognize this?

That's a church in Bodie, CA. And I imagine the local saloon in Affliction, Texas looking a lot like this:

Once things calm down a bit, we'll be planning a trip out there, both to get away and to soak up some atmosphere before writing the final scenes. 

If you'd like to take a closer look at Bodie yourself, check out this video by a California local on visiting Bodie with his son. There's some really cool background info about the town there, including how killings occurred almost daily, and how the minister, Reverend Warrington, concluded, "Bodie is a sea of sin, because of greed, passion, and the overall lust of the civilians in the city."

Check out this video by youtube user moneybags73:

Also--there's still 10 hours left to contribute to the Kickstarter! The last of the Collector's Edition books have been claimed, but there's still room to name a character or to have an illustration of yourself as a cowboy vampire included in the book! Don't miss out!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Hate and Fear in Fiction - What makes a compelling villain?

I've been bouncing some crazy ideas around about fiction and how we use it to process our darker emotions. First, a question for you...

What is the nature of evil?

I feel like most people would probably answer "hatred," right? (If you disagree, or have something else to offer, please let me know in the comments!)

The question of how to create a really good villain is something of an enigma. There's no one right way to create a compelling villain, but there are a few commonalities...

1) They should be someone you love to hate. Perhaps most important, they need to offend, insult, piss off, and/or enrage the reader sufficiently that you want to destroy them by the end, you yearn with a visceral hatred to just rip them to pieces, see them and everything they love destroyed. The best villains evoke this kind of reaction--but you can't try too hard for it or the villain just ends up seeming silly and melodramatic. Game of Thrones is full of these characters: Joffrey and Cersei, for my money.

2) You should be able to empathize with the villain. Right or wrong, even as they hurt you and anger you enough to make you hate them, at the same time you should /understand/ them at least a little bit. It may make you sad, but you should be able to see how they came to be where they are and--chillingly--recognize that it could have been you in the right (wrong?) circumstances. The villain of Watchman, Adrian Veidt/Ozymandius, is an excellent example of this kind of character. Even as you loathe him in the end... you can't help but wonder if you agree...

3) They should be fascinating in some sense. The Magnificent Bastard, for example, makes an excellent villain: bold, charismatic, independent, audacious and genius. Something mysterious and exciting about them. They should be as evil as they are charismatic. They make you want to follow them, even as you know you shouldn't. And when you eventually come to hate them, the feeling is all the stronger because of how much you could have loved them. The Phantom of the Opera is a good example of this kind of character.

But here's the magnificent irony of it all. While hatred is at the heart of true evil, the most successful villain is the one who elicits hatred in the audience.

By exploring evil, we tap into the evil parts of ourselves. By observing what we hate on-screen, we ourselves become creatures possessed by hate, by the desire to rend and destroy.

But it's okay, right? Because we hate something evil? But is hate still evil even if it points at something evil? Many of the most heinous crimes in the history of the world have been committed with hatred--genocide, murder, torture. But it's always a reaction to the villainy we see in the other; we are okay with hating and hurting because what we hate and hurt is evil... but in so doing, we ourselves become filled with hate and the desire to hurt.

It's a lot to wrap your head around... I'm just glad to get this stuff out in fiction rather than in real life. I'd much rather cathartically destroy a villain on-screen, rather than actually destroy another human being in real life under the hate-filled guise of some noble cause.

If you define evil as 'driven by hatred,' then it's beautifully ironic that the best villain is the one who turns the audience themselves into villains...

(If you like this, back the Kickstarter for my book: "The Good, the Bad, and the Undead" today, and see some of my explorations of the nature of good and evil in practice--with zombies!)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Artist Profile: Callie MacDonell

As we enter the third full day of the "The Good, the Bad and the Undead" Kickstarter at 85% funded, with less than $600 left to go, I think it's safe to say that a Western Action Horror featuring cowboys and vampires is an idea that has legs. People like it! Hell--that's why I'm writing it! I saw what the Fabled Lands guys were doing, and I liked it so much I wanted to join in.

Join the party on Kickstarter!

But this idea wouldn't be what it is without the magnificent art that brings it to life. You all know Jamie Thomson, and I've talked in a few places about who I am, but we haven't yet made space to talk about our wonderful artist, Callie MacDonell.

First, I want to say that I had a lot of trouble finding the right artist for this project. We talked to half a dozen artists, and many of them we even commissioned a piece or two from before it didn't work out for one reason or another. Just as I was ready to tear my hair out from frustration, Callie came along with the right skills and talent and agreed to join the team.

A stylized self-portrait by Callie MacDonell

Callie MacDonell is a professional artist and designer. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, in California, where she works full time doing art, design, and video production for the mobile game company Kabam. She got her undergraduate degree in Media Arts and Animation from the Art Institutes International Minnesota, and went on to get her graduate degree in concept art from The Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

She has a remarkable array of eclectic experience, having done animation, writing, illustrations, motion graphics, design, video production, and concept art. She was a character and environment concept artist for the short film Curpidgeon, where she worked along side Pixar Art Director, Anthony Cristov. She did design work at Marvel Comics, using Marvel artwork to design merchandise such as T-shirts, jackets, children's wear and the like. And she worked as a writer for a TV show pilot for FonCo Creative Company... but if she told you the name, she'd have to kill you ;)

Callie is a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy movies, tv shows and literature. She loves art in all forms, but is especially excited by opportunities to work on sci fi and fantasy projects within the comic and animation industries. She is currently working on her own short animation for children, "Cat Walrus," about an exchange student who is a cat-walrus mix, and she's struggling because it's picture day at school and she's clumsy on land and has nothing to wear... it's adorable!

In her own words, she couldn’t be more excited to be working on The Good, The Bad, and The Undead! We're excited to have her :) The book wouldn't be the same without her vision bringing it to life.

Callie MacDonell painting her own self-portrait

If you like her work, check out more of it!

Deviant Art:

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Demo Story Available for "The Good, the Bad and the Undead"

The Kickstarter goes live in one week! Aaaaaauughg! To commemorate this occasion, I've put together a short demo story for your amusement and edification.

In case you have managed to get this far without being aware of what "The Good, the Bad and the Undead" is, I like to describe it as 'Clint Eastwood meets Night of the Living Dead.'

It is the result of a collaboration between myself and Jamie Thomson, in which we both created the story and content, I'm doing the writing, and he's editing, revising, and providing creative input as I go along. Originally, this was borne out of an idea he had that he was going to write himself, but time constraints interfered (as they so often do) and I came on board to help make it a reality.

The cool thing about "The Good, the Bad and the Undead," (aside from cowboys vs. vampires... duh!) is the style of interactive narrative it uses. It's not so much a 'gamebook' in the traditional sense, as instead an 'interactive novel.' There are absolutely no mechanics, no dice, no character creation, no inventory--nothing that would interfere with your experience of immersing yourself in the story.

Furthermore, it's written in past tense, third person, just like most mass market novels. And it even jumps around in point-of-view between three protagonists.

So how is it interactive, then?

As you read, you get to inform the decisions of the whichever character is in the driver's seat at the time. Your choices let you discover and create that character at the same time. You get to make decisions that reveal who that character is, while simultaneously changing who that character is. You can tilt them toward good, or toward evil. You can tilt them toward cooperation, or toward strife.

It blends the lines between reader and author, between recipient and creator. As you read, you will make decisions as to which character's point of view you want to follow, and affect choices that character makes while you're following him or her. And your input, the way you influence these characters, can have a profound effect on how the story turns out.

It's a pretty unusual interactive fiction style. To my knowledge, it hasn't been done before, at least not in a paper book. Therefore, to help people get a sense of what they would be getting into should they decide to support the forthcoming Kickstarter...

I have prepared a short demo story for "The Good, the Bad and the Undead!" It is a short story, written in the same style, set in the same world, featuring two of the same characters, but at a different time and place compared to the main book. You could consider this a hint of a prequel.

Will you read the demo story? Will you capture the criminal, or let him escape? Will you save the family, or let them die?

Will you support the Kickstarter and read the full book? Only YOU can choose!

Read the full demo here :)

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Snarkiness or Fear? How to Write a Compelling Main Character

Hello hello, long time no see. I've been doing a lot of writing lately, and I keep having these observations I'd like to share, so might as well dust off the old blog.

Today's observation has to do with the snarky hero. How much snarkiness do you want? How much real terror? How do you find the right balance?

I see this as a spectrum ranging from characters like Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden on one end, spit-talking and cracking jokes not only in the face of death, but in the face of utter world annihilation, over to on the other end, characters like the hapless protagonists of bad horror movies, capable of little but screaming in terror.

Should your character be awed and disgusted and terrified by the dangers and horrors she sees? Or should she face it with a brave smile, cracking jokes to keep her spirits up (and to keep the reader amused)?

As in many cases, I think the correct path is the middle one. Characters without spine and spirit are no fun, either to write or to watch. And persistent action scenes can get boring if there aren't some jokes to spice them up. Yet at the same time, you don't want your character to be so insenitive to the violence and danger that the reader doesn't care either.

I think probably the ideal--at least for me at this time--is to strive for landing closer on the snarky end of the spectrum, maybe about 80% snarky, 20% real. This way, the 80% snarky keeps it fun and makes the character strong-willed enough to be interesting. Furthermore, saving the real reactions for the most crucial times will help bring power to those moments.

It's all about contrasts, right? If the character screams at every spook, then there's no difference between the zombie that lurches around a corner or the Cthulhic Old One that rises from the deeps. But if the character faces horror after horror without blinking, then that one time she does drop her jaw and run really tells you something!

What do you think? Post in the comments below!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

It's Official: The Good, the Bad, and the Undead

Hooray! At long last the official announcement is made:…/…/the-good-bad-undead.html

So, when I was a kid, I came across the choose your own adventure books like everyone else. I even thought, "hey, I could write these!" but the actual CYOA books weren't honestly that great... the one that won my little pre-adolescent heart was a book called, "Talisman of Death" by Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson.

Now, years later, as I'm working on kicking off an actual writing career in interactive fiction, I am lucky enough to have the chance to collaborate with ***Jamie Thomson himself*** in writing, "The The Good, the Bad, and the Undead." It was initially a book he was going to write as part of another venture, but both his writing of it and that venture fell through. His company, Fabled Lands LLP, put out a post to the community saying the project had died, but if some valiant community member wanted to step up and take it on, they'd consider it. I volunteered, citing my modest successes with the Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction, and what do you know---they accepted!

So here we are, two years later, with the book coming along nicely and the Kickstarter coming up around the corner. This is one of those transitional moments... not only my first published novel, but the fact that I'm doing it in collaboration with one of my childhood heroes.

Fortunately, I have an exciting publicity campaign planned with Callie MacDonell's help, which I don't think anyone here will object to ;)

Stay tuned for more updates, and keep it real, guys!

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

A New Beginning

The last year has been a time of a lot of transitions for me, but I think at last I'm settling into a new pattern. I've gone through grad school, earned my credential as a teacher, and will be starting as an English Teacher at Prospect High School in Pleasant Hill, California in two days. At last, I feel like things are coming together.

Something I've noticed in the past is that when my life is stable I'm a lot more psychologically prepared to keep up with my writing. Though I thought I would be too busy and stressed to write once the school year started, I actually feel, if anything, even more excited and ready to write. We'll see how well this holds up as the school year gets rolling, but I have a good feeling about the next few months.

So what am I up to? I've been silent for a long time, and that's mostly because I've been A) in grad school and B) focusing on actually writing with whatever time I have rather than maintaining the blog.

What I'm up to is a lot of the same things I was up to this time last year, to be honest, I'm just farther along on them. I tried to do too many things at once, so progress has been slow on each of them. At this point, I'm thinking I might try to focus on one at a time, knock them out, and then be able to give the next one my full attention each time.

Here's the things coming up from me:

The Good, the Bad, and the Undead: A little over a year ago, I was fortunate enough to land in a collaboration with Jamie Thomson (of Fabled Lands and The Dark Lord fame) on a western-horror interactive novel called "The Good, the Bad and the Undead." Think Clint Eastwood meets Night of the Living Dead. It was originally an idea of Jamie's, but I took it and did some major revisioning, with his support and approval. I've taken point on actually writing it up, in fits and spurts through the year of grad school, between other projects, and more steadily over the last summer. Now, we're reaching the point where the end is in sight. Together with the Fabled Lands guys, we will run a Kickstarter campaign sometime coming up soon to fund the artwork and printing to get this project in print. By this time next year, my book will be on shelves credited to "Ashton Saylor and Jamie Thomson," a heartwarming echo of the first gamebook I loved, "Talisman of Death," which was credited to "Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson." I could die happy.

Dwarf King: A little over two years ago, I got an email from Michael Akinde of Micabyte Systems, offering to work together to turn my Winhammer Merit Award winning short interactive story, "Peledgathol: The Last Fortress" into an Android game. After saying, "Hell yes!" we began work on it. I don't think either of us expected it to take this long, but it's not a small project, and we've kept slow but steady progress for two years on this game. At this point, as with The Good, the Bad and the Undead, the end is in sight. Or at least the alpha. It's a strategy rpg that incorporates elements of interactive fiction, strategy civilization management, and his wholly original Small Battles tactical combat system to create one of the most fully realized strategy RPG games yet released for Android. And soon it will be real, oh yes, it will be real. *cue dramatic laughter*

Shadow over Rema: Perhaps my most ambitious project (and with the two above, that's saying a lot) is the gamebook for Tin Man Games I'm still working on, Shadow over Rema. This is my dark fantasy masterpiece which will probably take years to complete. In retrospect, starting with an Epic Masterpiece was probably not the best plan, and to keep myself motivated and enthusiastic, I'm working on other things in the meantime. But once I do get there, I think it will be glorious.

At this point, I'm hoping to finish GBU by the end of this year and have an alpha for Dwarf King out by then as well. That one depends on Michael as well as me, but I at least want to have my part done. I'm probably going to be working on Dwarf King and keeping it updated, adding new content, for years to come, but that can be a source of fun side projects while working on other things. At that point, instead of taking on something new, I'd like to turn my attention fully to Shadow over Rema, and hopefully finish it, or at least be nearing the end, by the end of 2015.

There are a lot of other projects I've dreamed of or sort of have up on the back burner, for once I have time. I'd like to write more LARPs, like the Arcadian LARP, and I have several partially developed. Theatre Noir is almost completely developed, but as that is purely a solo project, I'm putting that on the back burner until I complete some of the projects I'm working on which are accountable to other people. I've got ideas for the next game which will come after Theatre Noir as well, including a fantasy RPG set in my Isles of Mist world, but that's further down the line.

Though getting started in my career as a teacher has been stressful and time-consuming, I'm still determined to pursue both careers, both education and writing, and I think I can do it. Over the next year, I think you guys will start seeing things of mine come out. I hope you like them :)