Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Now Out On Kindle - Ala ad-Din

So...yeah. I actually decided to do this. My original short story, "Ala ad-Din," is now available through Kindle Direct Publishing.

Click on the cover to head straight to the Amazon listing!

Now, those of you who know me may be saying, "Addley, why are you doing this? Don't you hate e-books? And despise the slapdash nature of the average self-publisher?"

The answer is: Yes, yes I do, on both accounts. But I'm also not an idiot. While the concept of actually reading an e-book makes me cringe, I know that they're not going to go away. And, while certain self-publishers with slapdash design and self-righteous arrogance drive me to tear at my throat like I've caught Hinamizawa Syndrome (obscure joke), I can't deny that the current marketplace is an excellent venue for things that wouldn't get traditionally published as stand-alones, like short stories, novellas, and the more esoteric genres.

And that's why I'm doing this. Ala ad-Din is mostly to test the water - I had the story sitting around, its rights reverted to me after Dante's Heart took the first printing, and I had an idea for the cover - but if it works, it won't be the last. I've got a handful of other stories that I know won't sell in the traditional market, either because it was written for too specific a market or because the genre doesn't technically exist in English, and after giving it a lot of thought, I think that self-publishing is the way to go with them.

So consider this a branch of my creative endeavors. If nothing else, it will be an interesting experiment.

In case you missed the link up there, you can purchase "Ala ad-Din" through Kindle Direct Publishing on It's only $0.99, so help a girl out, huh?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I've Got a Bad Feeling About This...

So, I’ve been working in the Hasting’s book department – the only bookstore-of-sorts in Odessa – for about a month now, and don’t get me wrong, I like it. I’d much rather be helping people and stocking books than working the cash register, that’s for sure, and there’s nothing more exciting than the moment someone says to me, “I just finished Series X and liked it a lot. What would you suggest I read next?” Even if Series X is Twilight, that’s the most enjoyable and rewarding part of my day.*

But there’s one thing that’s been bothering me: Our African-American Literature section.

The African-American Literature section is a single full bookshelf at the beginning of our novels section which is, as you’ve probably gathered, dedicated to African-American Lit. But here’s what gets me: apparently, Waler Mosley is not African-American Lit. Neither is Toni Morrison, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, or Alice Walker.

All of those authors are shelved in either classics or the white-bread, catch-all ‘novels’ section where we put everything that’s not romance, mystery, or sci-fi/fantasy. So what goes into our African-American Lit section?

Midnight: A Gangster Love Story
Chocolate Flava II
Mama, I’m in Love with a Gangsta
A Hood Chick’s Story
His Baby Mama: An Urban Tale

And so on.

I’m not even exaggerating here. I spent an hour alphabetizing the entire African-American Lit section last week, and saw every book there. There was a tiny, tiny handful that didn’t mention gangstas, hookers, playas, or hos. I think the words bitch and slut were in more titles than our entire erotica and sexuality section combined.

And I’m not going to claim to be an expert on African-American pop fiction, but this just screams…something bad.

Mind you, I don’t know exactly what this indicates. I know that Odessa has a relatively small African-American population for the south (we have more Hispanics than anything) and I know that we don’t have a whole lot of African-American culture, activism, or awareness in the area. But I find it really hard to believe that

And I’m not entirely sure what to do about it, because I’m not entirely sure if we’re the ones who decide the categories or if it’s something that corporate decides. I just know that something, somewhere, is seriously off.

If anybody’s got suggestions for what to do about this, please, I’d love to hear it.

*For the record, post-Twilight recommendations include: The Mortal Instruments series, Beautiful Creatures, House of Night, and The Name of the Star.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Defense of the Princess

If you've ever had reason to worry about the effects of media on young children or hung out with a bunch of feminist criticism types on the internet, you've likely seen this picture before:

Personally, I hate it.Why? Because I hate that it boils these stories down to their most offensive, out-of-context, anti-feminist interpretations and then gets passed around the internet like it's undeniable truth. I don't believe that any literature can be given one undeniable interpretation, and that goes for fiction, non-fiction, children's books, and religious texts alike.

Now here's the same picture, with the Disney-hates-women angle replaced with the messages that I got out of these movies when I was a kid:

All of these interpretations are as equally viable as their opposite numbers, because - as any writer and most readers should know - stories are much, much more than the sum of their parts. You can't boil a story down to one line and expect it to be a fair criticism of the work as a whole. You have to consider all of its different factors.

You know, on some level, I think kids can understand that. But if you're really worried that your little princess will absorb one side of the story and not the other, there's a simple answer, and it's not "don't let them watch Disney." It's talk to them. Ask them what they think the story means. Bring up new options, make them think about it, and let their imaginations do the rest.

And can we please stop passing that first picture around? It's insulting and condescending, neither of which adds positively to the dialogue on either literary criticism or feminism. It just makes people angry, and there's enough anger on the internet already.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On Writing What You Know

Lately, it seems like everybody’s been taking potshots at the old writing adage of, “Write what you know.”

“It’s so limiting,” the dispensers of internet advice all say. “If you only write what you know, you’ll be stuck in a rut. I only write what I imagine.”

And while I know they mean well (most of them) I can’t help feeling like, one, they’re being arrogant, and two, they’re blind. At the very least, they’re misinterpreting the statement a literal one, ie, only write about the facts you know or about things that resemble your real life, which is not – I’ll repeat is not – what the damn saying means.

Let me be clear here: “Write what you know” does not mean that only lawyers can write courtroom dramas, or that only people who have been in love can write romances. It does not mean that you can only write about something once you’ve researched it exhaustively or studied it in college. And it does not mean that writing up your life as a poorly-disguised memoir is a good idea, because it’s not.

When people say “Write what you know,” what they mean is, “Write from the heart.”

When you write what you know, you take something of yourself – whether that be a character’s habit or favorite food, a passion for a certain time in history, a location that’s important to you, or a theme that’s reflective of your own life – and put it into your writing. It can be subtle or blatant, or all-consuming. It can be recurring, or a one-time thing.

One way or another, that bit of yourself is a connection between you and your work, and between you and your reader. Writing what you know, what comes from your heart, is what makes the story endearing and lasting.

J.K. Rowling has said that death of Harry Potter’s parents – and arguably, the series itself – was inspired by the death of her mother. Try to imagine Harry Potter without the themes of death, of preserving through loss, of the connection between the living and the dead. Even if you can do it, the series would be at a loss. Book 7 would be out of the question. The Deathly Hallows, the Horcuxes, the ultimate difference between Harry and Voldemort – all of it, arguably, stems from that seed of what Rowling knew.

Yes, imagination is a wonderful thing, and yes, you can’t write fiction without it; but if you believe that’s the only place your ideas come from, then you’re either very ignorant about yourself, or your writing is missing that vital connection.

Imagination cannot stand on its own. It’s flimsy, and it isn’t real. Writing needs a hint of yourself – of what you know, of your reality – or it’s nothing more than words on a page.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Late Night Rant: On the subject of Movie Adaptions

I like movie adaptions. I like them a lot. I think that, when they’re done right, they’re a great opportunity to expand on the already-proven premise of a book and turn it into even more awesome than it was before.

So it bugs me when people start judging the movie before it even comes out, just because it’s an adaption.

And it really, really bugs me when their reason for this is, “The actors/setting/costume design is nothing like I imagined.”

You know why this frustrates me? Because it is an unreasonable expectation to have, and it’s not a fair standard to set. Even if the cast and crew of a movie could read viewer’s mind, there is no way that any one movie could match the imagination of every reader.

More than that, I hate this because it completely misses the point.

You don’t want the movie to match your imagination.

What you want is for the movie to give you something more, something beyond the original story, something that lives up to the heart of the characters you love and stories you adore while still bringing something new to table.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a successful movie adaption.

Movie adaptions are not meant to replace the book. Most – the mediocre ones, the ones churned out with no passion just to make a buck – are simply an excuse to extend your enjoyment of the story you love and share that enjoyment with your fellow fans, just like anime conventions, fan fiction, cosplay, and internet forums. Even the bad ones, the “Batman and Robin”s, are, at worst, a testament to why the original story was so great.

But the best movie adaptions take the story and turn it into something more.

Lord of the Rings became a cinematic masterpiece and cultural experience that brought epic fantasy into the mainstream consciousness of America.

Harry Potter was turned into one of the most ambitious projects in the history of cinema, keeping the same cast and same ongoing story through ten years, eight movies, and the horrors of puberty without ever sacrificing their standard.

And Marvel’s superhero movies of the last few years – like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America – have brought comic book-style continuity to the big screen for the first time, opening movies to the kind of rich, expansive world-building that is exactly what makes superheroes so unbelievably epic.

These are all extreme examples, of course, but my point remains: a good adaption will always give you more than you could have imagined, and those that do are worth the dozens of “Just okay”s and even the occasional stinkers.

Besides, if all the movie adaption had to offer you was the exact same thing you could imagine for yourself, there would be no point in creating a movie adaption at all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Suggestions for the VN Newbie

Otome Dating Sims (Girl pursues Boy)

RE: Alistair++ (Sakevisual) – A full FREE game available at Sakevisual’s website. I’ll be doing a belated review of it later this week, because it is pretty much the standard that I judge dating simulations by. And it’s free. Why are you not downloading it now?

Always Remember Me (Winter Wolves and Otome Games) – Easily Winter Wolves’ best game, Always Remember Me is a stat-based otome and life simulation game that, like other Winter Wolves games, has an excellent mechanics system and beautiful execution. It’s available on their website for $19.99

X-Note (Zeiva Inc. and Otome X) – A mystery wrapped up in a dating sim, following the main character as she investigates the death of her mother. Reviewed by me here, and available here for $15.

Dating Sims (Boy pursues Girl)

Katawa Shoujo (Four Leaf Studios) – A free, high-quality episodic game with beautiful art, a creative story, and very appealing characters. It is, however, wordy as fuck and the interaction between player and game is minimal. Still, it is a very strong story and is worth checking out. Available for free here.

The Flower Shop (Winter Wolves) – I think this is the game that people associate with Winter Wolves more than any other. It sets the WW standard for excellent mechanics and professional game production. Available here for $15.

Mystery Games

Jisei and Kansei (Sakevisual) – Easily my favorite series, period, and you can expect a full review as soon as I get my hands on Kansei. In both games, you take control of a mysterious, nameless protagonist to solve murder mysteries with his ability to see a victim’s last moments. Available here for $15 each.

9 Persons, 9 Hours, 9 Doors (Chunsoft, published by Aksys games) for the Nintendo DSIf you own a DS and will only ever play one visual novel, let me tell you – PLAY THIS ONE. There is so much to love. My full review is here. Available for $29.99 on Amazon.

The Ace Attorney series (Capcom) for the Nintendo DS – Pretty much the ur-example of English language VN releases and probably the most icon non-dating-sim VN available on the English market. Available for about the same price as most DS games, ie, about $20-$50 depending on where you buy it.

Answering the Question: What is a Visual Novel?

It occurred to me recently that, in spite of my tendency to review pretty much any and everything that catches my eye, a decent number of folks who follow this blog came in because of my YA lit interest and/or my writing and may not know what these strange “visual novel” things I keep going on about actual are.

So here’s a quick primer.

Visual Novels, also known as VNs, are a prevalent form of Japanese interactive fiction game. They’re very popular in Japan, making up 70% of all PC games released in 2006, but have only a small following in the Western world.

For us English-speakers, the most well-known kind of visual is what’s known as a Dating Simulation game. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The player takes the role of a character, usually a young man, in a situation where he’s surrounded by several attractive young women. The player then chooses to pursue one of the non-player characters for a romantic storyline, usually cumulating with a “good ending” of marriage or at least winning a date.

There is also a variation of dating sim known as an otome or “princess” game, which is same situation with a female player character pursuing male NPCs. Interestingly, a majority of the high-quality original English language VNs are otome games. There are some homosexual dating sims out there, but they tend to be a minority.

And, of course, there are the hentai games, which are porn. Most are pretty much the same as a dating sim, except that the goal is to get into the girl’s pants.

A less-prominent but still significant genre of visual novels is the mystery game. These are story-heavy mystery games that lead the player to unravel various secrets, sometimes in a way that’s similar to a puzzle or point-and-click action adventure.

No matter the genre, visual novels are a great storytelling medium that combines text, art, and music to communicate interactive stories with multiple endings.

How to Play

The in-game screens usually look something like this:

There are three basic elements. First is the text box, where the narration and dialogue describes the story. Second is the character, in the form of a static sprite that represent the character you’re talking to at that moment. The third is the background.

Generally, as a scene plays out, the background will stay the same (establishing the location), while the character sprites switch between emotions and text box scrolls through the story. Eventually, in most games, choices will appear, like this:

These choices can be anything from things to say (like in this example) to major actions (ie, choosing which of three characters is the real murderer).

The most basic visual novels act essential like choose-your-own adventure books, which each decision branches off into a new part of the story. More complicated games will utilize stat-raising elements based on decisions, and it can be tricky to tie the mechanics into the storytelling, but if you pull it off as a creator, it can be very rewarding.

Writing Visual Novels

Just a short blip on this subject: all English visual novels, at least those that are originally created in English, are created by independent, small-time organizations and individuals. Thus, it is very easy to make your own game with a little time and effort. I dabble it myself. In fact, those screen shots up there are from a basic Hetalia Axis Powers fan-game I made to teach myself the system.

Some VN creators use Flash to create their games, but I think the most effective way is to utilize the python-based Ren’py visual novel engine, available for free here. Not only is Ren’py fun to learn and pretty easy to use, once you master it you can create really complicated and professional-level games. Plus, they’ve got a growing community of creators and visual novel fans that can be a lot of fun to hang out with.

If you ever happen to be at a con with Ayu Sakata of Sakevisual, definitely go to her visual novel panel, because she does a great job of explaining how to create them. Also, she's funny.

If all this has gotten you interested in playing visual novels, then great! My next post will have a list of my favorite suggestions for VN newbies, including several free games. It's coming up in just a little bit so stay tuned.