Simya Academy: Othering

There’s a few strange things that got left out of Simya Academy. Namely, I left out everything that wasn’t directly related to Dawn. Like this little bit about what happened with Zeke.


A moment ago there was nothing but fire and that girl, her grey eyes chilling him to the bone. He knew her once as a child, back in those hazy years that would never quite return to him. She changed from the friend he sort of remembered to the demon who looked too at home in the flames.

“What’s going on?” he asked, his voice hollow and disappearing into the night. He could feel the cool open night air and was dimly aware that he was in a field in the middle of nowhere, his knees soaking from the damp soil he now knelt in. It didn’t matter. Nothing made sense anymore.

You needed to get out of there, came the little voice in his head. Frag was there, as he always was, speaking gently and trying not to sound shaken himself. I took the liberty.

Zeke shook his head, though he wasn’t sure what he was disagreeing with. He could still feel the fire. He could see Dawn there. He could hear his brother. He saw everything happen. He knew what happened. It just didn’t make any sense.

He didn’t know how long he sat there, sitting in the dirt and shaking his head, before he managed to get his next words out. “I can’t go back, can I?”

You could, Frag said. I wouldn’t recommend it. It might be time to go.

“Yeah,” Zeke said. “Yeah, I think we should go.”

Zeke didn’t move a muscle, but the field was empty a moment later.

simyaacademy1

When Life Gets You Down

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been around very much. Sure, posts have been going up, but the vlogs stopped and I’m just talking about stuff that I finished writing months ago. I all but vanished off of social media and I haven’t really done much since that one NetGalley run a few months ago. So what the heck happened?

Short answer: I burned out.

I managed to put out 13 books since October 2013 and that pace finally caught up to me. I was rewriting Changing Tides and I just shut down writing-wise. I couldn’t keep going and my mind and body1 were telling me that I needed to take a break, so I took one. It also told me that I really needed to reassess my pace so that I could keep this from happening again.

This year, I need to take it easy. Next year I’m probably not going to go back to the four books a year schedule either.2 Chances are it will go down to three or two a year, though I’ll try to focus a bit more on getting the games into beta. It’s unfortunate, but I’m glad to at the very least to be ready to do some work on the writing again. Even if it’s not necessarily publishing right at this moment.

I’m going to put Changing Tides on the back burner for now and focus my attention on a few other things. I’ll still get the next Looking Glass Saga book out in October, but I don’t see myself getting any other books out for this year. Instead, I’m going to focus on something just a touch more relaxing in an attempt to get myself back in good order at least for November and drafts season.3 And I’m probably going to still try to get those White Noise sequels written. Because, taking it easy or not, this is still me.

So that’s the new plan. Hopefully there won’t be any more burning out and you’ll be hearing from me a lot more in the coming months!

  1. I was also adjusting to a new job and having a few medical issues I won’t go into []
  2. Especially not with the new job. It’s just not going to work. []
  3. And next year, because I have a few things I want to do next year. []

Bunches of Themes

In the end for Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector, all of the stories were grouped based on a similar theme or idea. I played with a lot of different groupings for them, but in the end I found that thematically made the most sense when you were reading the anthologies.1 The ideas, for those who have not checked them out yet:

Syndicate – An introduction to the universe and some basic elements

Backstreets – What the backstreets are

Office – The Syndicate offices and how it functions

Visitors – Things that exist in the universe that should not be there

Evidence – Magical items

Legacy – A look at all those potential “Chosen ones” that exist in these sorts of stories and what they’re doing

And then there’s Simya Academy, which was a tie in novella and isn’t going to be talked about too much in this series.2

As one person pointed out, doing this didn’t work for every book. Backstreets, I agree, was very samey after a while because the type of story is very much the same when I tell something that happens in the Backstreets. It’s essentially a winding haunted house, so they all came out with a very heavily haunted house influenced feeling and narrative structure.

Legacy also had issues in that it was the last book of a very loosely explained series that attempted to give an explanation of what was going on.

Overall, though, I think it worked for this series. Considering I was going to allow users to build their own books from the stories provided,3 I think this was probably the best idea I could have gone with.

You know, until next week when I think of something better.

  1. And for writing them! []
  2. Nor is the actual content of the series at all. []
  3. And an earlier structure that involved rigid classification and no consideration for arcs at all []

Tagging Narratives

Back when I was still sitting on Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector, I talked to the CEO of a company of BookRiff and she presented a very interesting idea that I pretty much immediately took to. The idea of BookRiff, originally, was more academic1 and would allow you to take articles and chapters out of various books and merge them into a different book. Ideally, it meant that students could get cheaper textbooks by only printing off what they needed.

I, being someone who had an anthology series with strange linearity, had a very different idea. In one of the early iterations, instead of releasing them in collections, I was going to release every story individually and give people a way to create their own books based on which characters they liked or which stories they wanted to continue with.

This, of course, fell through. But I haven’t quite given up on the idea. I like the idea of a build-your-own-narrative where you pick the pieces you like and put them together to make them your own. A whole book with only those characters you like. An arc that is put in the proper linear order. Just giving people a way to take the existing pieces and let them put them together in a way that makes sense to them.

In my head, I call it a tagged narrative. The idea of it is that it is a group of stories that are user created and grouped under a categorization that the user creates rather than one that the gatekeeper2 imposes. It could be something curated by a lot of people that doesn’t have anything to do with the way the original content creator had grouped the narratives originally.

  1. Or that’s how she pitched it, anyway []
  2. In this case, me, the author []

Office: Escape

This is a scene that never quite made it into the series. This takes place during one of the stories in Office when the office is overrun and Persea has been forgotten about.


That ceiling had taunted her for so long. It laughed as she was kept inside the jar, trapped and unable to escape the glass. There was iron in the lid and she could not break through that. For years, she watched as her captor just sat there, ignoring her and forgetting that she was even there in the first place.

And then he died. And then there was nothing to even watch. There was only the mockery of the ceiling when it remembered her at all.

But now some idiot had finally come in. He was trying to freeze himself in the room, but she knew it wouldn’t work. Already, something was rumbling the shelf behind her, trying to break through the wall. No matter how much ice, she would finally be free and humanity would pay for what they did to her.

The shelf came down in a crash and the jar bounced against the ground. She felt the rumbling around her as more humans trampled the remains of the shelf, but the jar that held her was still intact.

No, that couldn’t be right.

Persea banged against the glass. Even as the room around her froze, she kept fighting against her clear prison. It wasn’t fair! She was so patient, spent so many years in solitary confinement and forgotten. It was her time to be free and she would make the humans pay! She was not meant to be contained!

Outside, the ceiling laughed.

office

Not So Linear

In all my talking about Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector, I haven’t really talked about on how much I have always wanted to play around with linearity. I do love messing around with linearity, but I have issues with time travel narratives because then you have to deal with time travel rules. If you affect something from the past, does that split off the timeline? Does it change the existing? Does knowing at all pop you into a new one?

I liked the idea behind things like Momento or Sandman,1 where the story was set but the order the story was told in wasn’t strictly linear. Instead, you got to use the cues in the stories to try and figure out where in the timeline of the overall narrative everything took place.

While I wanted to, when I tried messing around with the order of the books, they ended up being a mess. There are bits of not so linear storytelling in the order of the stories in each of the books, but within the books they are largely in order. The books themselves, however, overlap in terms of linearity.

Not that it’s impossible to tell what happens when. There are little nods to previous stories that would be lost if you read them out of order2 as well as much more clear references3 that are intended to help tell which one happens when. You can reasonably tell when one story comes after another one if you really try to, though a few will be left in question.

It’s a bit like I mentioned before with everyone coming back from a trip with different stories. You can piece together how everything fits together, even though conflicting stories. Like that example, though, there are always a few stories that you just can’t place on your own.

Or you can cheat and check the timeline I made while I was writing. That is also an option.

  1. Or Time Stranger, but I think I’m the only one who likes that movie []
  2. Such as Mikey and when he works with Jason []
  3. The age of the twins is directly referenced a few times []

He Said, She Said Narrative

I’ve been talking about my Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector’s narrative structure a little and how I tried to evoke a feeling of urban legends being told in a bar one night1 rather the traditional storytelling method of making everything feel genuine to the universe.

And then I kept going with the idea.

I thought about stories I’ve heard my friends tell and there was one more element to it that I was overlooking. If there was a story from, say, a camping trip2 there was never one story. There were different ones told from different perspectives that all seemed to hook together if you paid attention to them. This fragmented narrative structure made the storytelling a lot more fun because they wouldn’t frame it as before or after or during another event – you’d have to figure it out based on other story details.3

I liked the idea and ran with it as an intentional part of the structure. Within the sets of not-so-self-contained stories are arcs told from differing perspectives, all of which add something different to the narratives. Even outside of the arcs, there are items and characters that appear at different points with different tells that give you a sense of when each story is taking place within the narrative and giving a different context to the events in other stories.

And I do like to find ways to make the third person limited perspective a bit more interesting. As much as I dislike first person for the number of times I’ve felt trapped in the head of a character I grew to despise, I do like how it limits things to what a character would feasibly know and leaves the reader with an incomplete picture of what’s going on.4

Yeah, that part was intentional too. I’m not sorry.

  1. Not actually what I said, just go with it []
  2. I would never be in attendance for those due to my skin’s disagreements with the outdoors []
  3. Or you cheat and ask, but what fun is that? []
  4. When it’s done well, anyway []

Backstreets: Transition

There were a lot of little things with Shane that ended up in the background of the series. The explanation for one of the stranger pieces of decoration in his office was cut from Backstreets.


The book said this was the time and place and Shane knew better than to distrust it. Even with the number of people milling about, he spotted enough of his allies among them. He was actually a little surprised how many of them there were.

It’s time, he told them, none of them so much as flinching as they heard his voice in the back of their minds. He walked through the crowd to a bald Irishman with an overgrown beard , currently surrounded by a mix of people loyal to him and those who were most certainly not.

“Kendrick,” Shane said, drawing the eyes of everyone in that cluster of people. “We need to talk.”

“Who the fuck’s this kid?” one of them asked. The woman knew full well who Shane was, being one of the first people he approached. She’d been itching to get rid of Kendrick longer than Shane had.

“One of the nokkers I got working the numbers,” Kendrick told her. “Make it quick.”

“You are done here.”

“What?”

“I said you are done, Kendrick. Head back home. I’m taking over.”

Kendrick laughed, cracking his knuckles. Lightning races between his fingertips as he flexed them and raised his hand. “You think-”

Kendrick’s hand stopped just before it collided Shane’s face, electricity still arching between his fingers and as immobile as the rest of him. From the look on his face to the fabric of his shirt, everything about him was frozen in time.

Now all that was left to make sure that everyone else would fall in line. Looking around at the stunned faces and anxious fingers ready to lash out at anyone who made a wrong move, he knew that the the upcoming fight would be over quickly.

“Well then,” Shane said, turning back to the rest of the room. He reached into his pocket for his knife. “Is anyone else going to have a problem with that?”

backstreets

That Thing That Guy Talked About Once

I said before that there was a reason that the stories in Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector never seemed to be completely done, then I just stopped in a place where there was kind of an ending but not really.1 Let’s get into that reason.

Like I said before, endings are fascinating to me in that they rarely ever actually are endings so much as break points in stories with so many things that could continue the story, but we don’t continue them because we are satisfied with that much.2 I often wishing the story were being told by a person so I could ask what happened next or for some update on it.

That’s largely where the last story in each of the books came from. There was someone in a bar telling some urban legend they heard from a friend of a friend who would elaborate on prompting if necessary, but ultimately wouldn’t know. Maybe they would elaborate. Maybe they would lie and say they knew more.

From there, I took the idea and ran with it in a lot of different ways. For now, the beginnings and endings. I stopped thinking about the narratives as prose and started thinking about the stories as things you would tell your friends about. If I were going to tell my friends about, say, that time I had to interview a couple of crazy children with superpowers and they dragged me into hell and I had to figure it out via surveillance footage hours later, where would the story start and stop?

While part of it was trying to find a way to make the last story not seem too out of place, I found I really liked the effect of the narrative. It ended up giving this effect3 of a bunch of stories that your friend told you the last time you were hanging out. The way the stories began and ended felt more like urban legends than set in stone text about the universe.

Given the stories are supposed to be about a well kept secret world that coexists within our own, it felt like a very good format. If I can make it seem like all those brick backstreets in Vancouver seem like they were hiding more than they actually were, then that was perfect.4

If that’s where it ended, that would have been great. But I kept thinking about it and I just ended up expanding on the idea.

  1. It was a parallel to what I was talking about in the post, but if I have to explain that then I need to work on my execution. []
  2. I didn’t say all of this, but we’re going to pretend I did to keep me from meditating too much on the nature of endings. That’s another post entirely. []
  3. To me, at least []
  4. And everything in Vancouver is red brick. []

The End Came and Nothing Happened

Now that Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector is done,1 I want to talk a lot about it. It’s not one of my more popular series by a long shot. It’s weird and it doesn’t all seem to fit neatly together. There’s questions at the end of it that are never fully resolved. Hell, there’s something called The End in the series that’s alluded to over and over again that never gets a resolution.

Let me make you angry. That was intentional.

The whole series was a way for me to play around with a lot of concepts in stories and narrative that most other people really don’t like. None of them are books you can sit down and read from beginning to end and leave with a sense you got the whole story. The shorts have these dangling threads at the ends that hint at a story that is still to come. Even those stories that stretch into two or three more shorts don’t wrap everything up nicely in the end. On top of that, things aren’t always in their proper order, leaving the reader with a mess of stories that all take place in the same area and have a few characters to connect them, but no idea what they are supposed to do with all of them.

Let’s start with talking about endings in general. I’m fascinated with the idea that fiction has to wrap everything up neatly and that there is a definite ending to anything. So often, I’ve read stories where the main character will have a breaking point in their story2 that isn’t actually an end. On top of that, the effects of the climax are never fully addressed or even acknowledged for the most part.3

With Tales from the Twisted Eden Sector, I decided to play around with how the endings worked. The beginnings too, to an extent. Normally a short story is meant to be self contained. They have a proper beginning, middle, and end. While all of the stories in the series definitely had a middle, the beginnings and endings were much less defined, with many just starting and ending in strange places with things left open.4

There are endings of a sort. There are some things wrapped up. Some questions answered. But I’m very aware of all the questions that have been left behind unanswered. But there is a reason for all of this, and that is twofold.

  1. In the loosest sense of the word []
  2. They won that last fight and hooked up with their love interest and they walk off into the distance []
  3. So how is the city recovering after you blew half of it up? []
  4. We still don’t know if Flint’s still alive from the first book, for example. []