Normal Deviation’s Kickstarter Campaign Has Launched!

Normal Deviation’s Kickstarter Campaign Has Launched!

Kickstarter campaign promo

Just a short announcement post on our Normal Deviation Kickstarter campaign. In case you missed it, we’ve spent the last year putting together a short fiction anthology based on one very weird picture (as you can see).

We’ve collected some fantastically weird stories from a seriously rad group of writers, including Olivia Berrier, Josephine Bruni, Dan Cox, Josh Dygert, Sam Hirte-Runtsch, Jonathan Howard, L.G. Keltner, Chris LoudAmanda Marples, Charlie Wilson, Cath Barton, Jetse de Vries, Joanna Michal Hoyt, Dean Knight, Molly McLellan, Arathi Menon, Jesse Rodriguez, Nicola ThompsonEmma Venables, and Clare Weze. Oh, and DeAnn and I wrote stories, too!

The campaign, if funded, will help us afford to pay our authors at least semi-pro rates for the stories, something that as a fledgling company we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. It will also give us some room to print hard copies in advance of our book launch.

We’re offering some fun extras, including donation copies of the anthology to libraries, copies of the Blue Pencils anthology, and some hand-made cone-head crafts – because why not?

Please join us, and share to all you know!

Podcast Episode 3: Hypertext for the People

Podcast Episode 3: Hypertext for the People


Hypertexts are one of the oldest and enduring forms of digital literature, dating from the 1st gen in 1987, to the explosion in indie games thanks to Twine. We chat about how hypertexts form the foundation of digital fiction, what role they play in culture, and we share some of our favorites.

Special shout out to Astrid Ensslin, Lyle’s co-writer on our chapter on the history of hypertext, “Hypertext: From Storyspace to Twine” in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Electronic Literature. Her research into hypertext forms the backbone of our knowledge in this area!

Links mentioned in this episode:

This episode’s “Pick a Card” topic:

See Lyle’s profile and work on her website, and Jordan’s research and writing musings here.
Many thanks to Bangor University’s School of Creative Studies & Media for use of their recording equipment and support of this podcast.Produced by Lyle Skains & Jordan Glendenning. Music from Kurt James Werner.

Podcast Episode 2: Interactive Fiction & Text Adventure Games

Podcast Episode 2: Interactive Fiction & Text Adventure Games

Interactive fiction (better known as text adventure games) is the forerunner of narrative-based video games. In this episode, we discuss the origins of IF, its commercial heyday, and what contemporary IF has become.

(Apologies for my voice – I’d been rather ill that week! -Lyle)

Links mentioned in this episode:

This episode’s “Pick a Card” topic:

See Lyle’s profile and work on her website, and Jordan’s research and writing musings here.
Many thanks to Bangor University’s School of Creative Studies & Media for use of their recording equipment and support of this podcast.

Produced by Lyle Skains & Jordan Glendenning. Music from Kurt James Werner.

Podcast Episode 1: You Already Read Digital Fiction

Podcast Episode 1: You Already Read Digital Fiction


The term “digital fiction” may not be familiar to you, but the works probably are. “3rd generation” electronic literature often goes viral on social media; we enjoy it and pass it on without really thinking about what else is out there. But there’s a lot else out there! In this episode, we discuss DF you may have already seen, and some you might want to look up.

Links mentioned in this episode:

This episode’s “Pick a Card” topic:


See Lyle’s profile and work on her website, and Jordan’s research and writing musings here.
Many thanks to Bangor University’s School of Creative Studies & Media for use of their recording equipment and support of this podcast.

Produced by Lyle Skains & Jordan Glendenning. Music from Kurt James Werner.

What’s happening in the box of Wonder? Oh, so many things!

What’s happening in the box of Wonder? Oh, so many things!

We’ve been quiet for a while here not because we’ve fallen off the Earth (it’s flat now, have you heard?), but because we’ve been spectacularly busy!

We’ve got several projects on the go: the Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition, our Normal Deviation anthology, a brand new Wonderbox podcast, and more Hyperstories on the way!

Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition

Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing CompetitionThe 2nd annual contest closes tomorrow (15 March), but we’ve already gotten a slew of entries from all over the world, in all kinds of different formats. I can’t wait to go through them all and see what we’ve got. We’ll be shortlisting over the next couple of months, with winners announced in July.

In the meantime, why not have a look at last year’s winners and shortlist – there are fantastic works in there from Alan Bigelow, Kaitlyn Ensley, Dean Hammer, StoryMax, Robin Johnson, Phantom Williams, Lynda Clark, Serge Bouchardon, Mez Breeze & Dreaming Methods, and more.

Normal Deviation Anthology

Normal Deviation anthologyIt’s almost there! All the stories are in and edited to perfection. DeAnn and I are about to sit down and puzzle over the best order, along with font choices and all the ephemera that is involved in pagination, bios, and intros (maybe an outro?). We’ll be re-launching our Kickstarter to support the anthology in April, and expect to release in May, so keep an eye on this space and/or subscribe to our Normal Deviation mailing list.

The Wonderbox Podcast

Wonderbox PodcastI’m pretty excited about this one. I’ve been wanting to do a podcast for ages, but could never pin anyone down to chat with me/keep me from making each episode 3 hours long. Jordan Glendenning, a digital writer and one of my PhD students, is luckily just as enthusiastic about podcasts as I am, and a lot better at timekeeping.

This twice-monthly podcast will delve into all things digital fiction – what is it, where is it, what are the cool things it does, what role is it playing in culture, and just about anything else we can think of. Have a listen whether you’re new to digital fiction, or you’re a digital writer/researcher yourself – we hope everyone will find something interesting and entertaining in it. Subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, and Podbean (or through your preferred podcast app).

Hyperstories

The Pyxis MemoI have more hyperstories in the works, building on The Futographer and my latest, The Pyxis Memo. We had a fantastic 24-hour Create-a-thon last week, and I spent a good 12 hours of it brainstorming my next hyperfiction/ebook hybrid: Death After Death. The ex-geneticist geek in me even got to Punnet Square the number of possible endings I’d created for the story (and then backtracked quickly – 1024 is ambitious, even for me!).

These hyperstories are the key focus of Wonderbox’s current publishing aims, so if any writer out there has work (such as Twine games) that you could envision becoming an ebook, get in touch.

For the Future…

As many may know, my vision for Wonderbox isn’t just for it to be a review site and publishing imprint. The ultimate goal is to create a marketplace arm where digital writers (of any and every genre and development platform) can self-publish their work – the Kindle Direct Publishing of the digital fiction world, as it were.

Toward that end, I have various funding applications out, in order to develop the site, provide server space for hosting the works, market them, and bring greater mainstream awareness to the form.

Until these come in, however, we’ll keep doing what we do – reading and writing about great digital and speculative fiction!

Judges for 2018 Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition

Judges for 2018 Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition

I’m so happy that Astrid Ensslin, Bronwen Thomas, and Eben Muse (well, and me) are all returning to judge this year’s Opening Up competition. We had such a great experience last year, and I hope that we can top it this year with even more works of popular/mainstream-appeal digital fiction.

As I stumbled on promotions in December (thanks to two grant applications…the grub-work is never done!), I’ve extended the submission deadline to 15 March 2018. That gives everyone an extra month to make some awesome interactive stories!

We’re changing up the way judging happens a little bit this year, now that we have some great digital creators in our “academy”. Creators who have been previously shortlisted in the competition will be invited to review the submitted works this year, and offer their own shortlists for each category. This will make up the shortlist for the competition, and the judges will choose the finalists. We wanted our creators to have more voice (outside the People’s Choice) category.

So get ready for a great Spring season full of fantastic new works of digital fiction!

Hyperbooks & hyperstories: That’s kind of our thing

Hyperbooks & hyperstories: That’s kind of our thing

New hyperstory release:

The Pyxis Memo: On Resurrecting the Free Web” (a hypertext in eBook form)

The Pyxis Memo
The Fracture of 2018 ended the United States as we know it. The fear, the violence, the bombs…where did it all originate? And can the box of destruction be closed once it’s been laid open?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Wonderbox is my little experimentation baby. I’m a writer and researcher in digital fiction, and in the past couple of years I’ve been questioning more and more why this fascinating, nubile, agile form of narrative hasn’t really hit the mainstream, despite almost 3 1/2 decades of creativity, sharing, and growth. So I turned my research and creative activities to publishing.

If you’ve had a squiz at the Wonderbox website, you may have noticed under “Projects” is a listing for Hyperbooks. This is my creative + publishing experiment to see if I can bring new (paying!) audiences to digital fiction through the established and thriving marketplace of eBooks. Why not? They’re already hypertextual!

I published my first “hyperstory”, a short hypertext in eBook form, last year about this time: “The Futographer“. I haven’t pushed it much, but my mom likes it, so there’s a ringing endorsement for you. It’s always been my aim to write something my mom would “get”, and not need me to walk her through it (she liked my previous interactive fiction, but it was definitely a guided tour).

Of course, this is the same woman who follows her “I love yous” with “I guess somebody has to.” Take her endorsement as you will.

Anyway, I’ve just released my latest hyperstory, “The Pyxis Memo: On Resurrecting the Free Web“. It’s not as straightforward, and my mom hasn’t read it yet, but my husband has, and he liked it, so there’s another ringing endorsement for you.

My goal with these hyperstories is to establish a niche for these works in eBook marketplaces. Start small, go big. Through the smaller texts, I’ve been learning the best ways to code my XML files so the hyperstories function as closely to online hypertexts as possible (yeah, there will be an academic paper or two out of this at some point), and hopefully building a little audience of awareness for them, so that when I finally work my magnum opus out (it’s coming, trust me), it will function brilliantly and beautifully and make me the next J.K. Rowling. Or, at least, I hope it won’t suck.

There you have it. Check out “The Pyxis Memo”, and let me know what you think (#PyxisMemo).

Review: Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Fifty Year Sword

Review: Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Fifty Year Sword

The 50 Year Sword Cover

The Fifty Year Sword
by Mark Z. Danielewski
2005
Book


Autumn is finally in the air; the smell of coal fires litter the evening air where I live, the leaves are turning to rich golds and warm umbers. Either joyfully or annoyingly (depending on your opinion of the matter) everything is pumpkin spiced, and you can more than likely find me holding a pumpkin whilst telling the Christmas crowd to back off.

Are you settled? Warm socks and a steaming mug of whatever takes your fancy?

Because you have a date with “a bad man with a very black heart…”

The Fifty Year Sword is at first glance an exquisite looking book; however, it holds something quiet, something menacing within its pages and under its jacket. The story is told by five speakers, differentiated by coloured quotation marks, and is told entirely in dialogue.

Chintana has decided to attend the 50th birthday party of Belinda Kite, the woman with whom her husband had an affair. A storyteller comes to the house to entertain five orphans with a dark tale where they traverse through The Valley of Salt, amongst The Forest of Falling Notes, scaling the Mountain of Manyone Paths to reach the Man With No Arms.

If I were to tell you any more than that, it would give away too much. Danielewski is renowned for his ability to juxtapose imagery and narrative to create a non-trivial text and The Fifty Year Sword is a wonderful welcome into this world if you haven’t yet delved into it.

The narrative draws you in; the dialogue that is crossed between and cut amongst provides it with a quickened pace. The visuals of the seemingly sliced pages, the stitched embroidery providing you with a sense of connection all add to the overall experience, everything in Danielewski’s worlds is done deliberately with deep thought and finesse.

Some find this kind of literature as gimmicky, rather pretentious and occasionally not worth taking the time to read. First printed in 2005 with a limited edition run of 1000 copies, and then another run several years later, it has proved itself to be a cult favourite. Relying on intricate, woven language and the depths of the reader’s mind rather than unnecessary depictions of violence, it is a much more successful tale for the ages.

Ergodic fiction is continuously growing, changing and adapting to new various platforms. With these changes come new methods of becoming immersive, of providing an all-round experience but if you’re daunted by the scale of that or unsure where to start, then The Fifty Year Sword is an excellent doorway in.

This book is more than a ghost story told on Hallow’s Eve and more than a fairy-tale to be forgotten.

The last question to be asked: What will happen on your fiftieth birthday?

Review: Phantom Williams’ 500 Apocalypses

Review: Phantom Williams’ 500 Apocalypses

500 Apocalypses Screenshot

500 Apocalypses
by Phantom Williams
2016
Hypertext


500 Apocalypses is a fictional ‘memorial garden’ containing short entries about different worlds’ apocalypses. It’s a hypertext database, which can either be explored linearly or through using the hyperlinks to jump around the entries.

No entry is entirely like another. Some are atmospheric in tone, soaring above alien planets to let us land on mountains and watch the sky tumble. Some are blunt. They tell us that this world ended in fire. Some are personal, a conversation between two people close to each other. Some are philosophical, discussing the greater purpose of language, of war, of sex. While some are prosaic, the large majority are poetic: not poetry, but in trying to express the alien experience the writing rarely touches on the definite, using our senses to portray a facsimile of another world.

Throughout the hypertext, there is a pervasive sense of helplessness. Of course, given the topic, that’s to be expected, but it still grabs me almost overwhelmingly while reading it. Part of it is that many of the entries are written from the perspective of people who know they are about to die and are attempting to come to terms with it. The rest is more about dramatic irony – we know that they are about to die, but they don’t. In a way, that’s worse: they never have a chance to understand what is happening. But in a way, that’s better as well; it’s a relief from the cruelty of the apocalypse.

Part of what’s great about 500 Apocalypses is the inventiveness behind it. It imagines all the ways in which a society can destroy itself, or the ways in which nature can destroy us. It raises questions about climate change, about refugees and civil disputes, about science and history and the recording of both, but most of all it raises questions about the nature of humanity and the nature of civilisation. I’m a firm believer that no work can be divorced from its context, and 500 Apocalypses certainly speaks for its time – although what it says is different for every reader. We bring our own context into reading it, and put our own emphases on the different disasters we get to peruse.

The form works well for this type of narrative. It gives readers more control over their consumption of the entries, allowing us to ‘save’ our progress so we can return to it on separate days – not unlike chapters in a novel – and the database-style is immersive, allowing readers to be sucked into the concept. It is not without its negative aspects, however; when returning to the main page, it occasionally reverts back to the top and you have to scroll down to find your place again. There’s also the matter of following hyperlinks within entries – there are often multiple hyperlinks within one entry, and you cannot return to the previous entry once you click on one to explore the others. That annoyed me while reading it, but it’s not the end of the world (as it were), as all of the entries are accessible through the main page.

500 Apocalypses is – well, I’d hesitate to call it ‘fun’. It’s interesting and engaging, and it uses the science-fiction genre without falling into too many of the tropes inherent there. There is no boggy world-building to be bored by, and it offers enough unique plots to make me want to finish reading all the options. What it is, however, is miserable and depressing – as one might expect from the title. It might not be fun, but it is something I’d recommend reading if you have the time.