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Author: Lyle Skains

Founder of Wonderbox Publishing. Writer of speculative fiction and digital fiction, and researcher in digital fiction and e-publishing.
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).

Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition 2.0

Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition 2.0

Deadline for submissions: 15 Feb 2018

Announcement of winners: 31 July 2018

Entries accepted in English and Welsh.

Wonderbox Publishing, in conjunction with Bangor University (Wales), is sponsoring the second annual competition to discover the best “popular” digital fiction: digital fiction that appeals to mainstream audiences.

See last year’s winners here!

Digital fiction is fiction that is written to be read/played on digital devices. Importantly, digital fictions are different to e-books. Rather than existing as a digital version of a print novel, digital fictions are what are known as “born digital” – that is, they would lose something of their form and/or meaning if they were removed from the digital medium.

For example, they may contain hyperlinks, moving images, mini-games or sound effects. In many digital fictions, the reader has a role in constructing the narrative, either by selecting hyperlinks or by controlling a character’s journey through the storyworld. Digital fictions therefore require that the reader interacts with the narrative throughout the reading experience. Hypertexts, text-adventure games, multimedia stories, interactive video, literary games, and some mobile apps are all examples of types of digital fiction.

See our Digital Fiction Resources guide here.

There are no restrictions as to types of software you can use to produce digital fiction; everything from HTML, Adobe Flash, Inform7, Twine, YouTube, Twitter, and more have been used to make digital fictions. For the competition, please submit links or files that are openly accessible on any computer (Mac or PC), and that will run in a web browser.

Wonderbox Publishing is a new publishing endeavour that seeks to provide commercial space to digital fiction, and the Opening Up Digital Fiction Writing Competition is therefore designed to expand digital fiction readership to include a broader segment of the public. Therefore while the competition is open to all writers (rookies and veterans) and all types of digital fiction, we are seeking entries of works that are broadly accessible, both in terms of intended audience and device compatibility.

This competition is funded through a Bangor ESRC Impact Acceleration Award, in partnership with Wonderbox Publishing, Literature Wales, and Jisc Wales.

The prize categories are:

  • Judges’ Prize
  • People’s Choice
  • Welsh Language Prize*
  • Student Prize
  • Children’s Story

*Welsh language entries are eligible for all categories.

Winners will receive a cash prize (to be announced) and an option to publish with Wonderbox Publishing.

For ongoing details of the competition, please watch this space, and subscribe to updates!

Ready to submit? Click here!

Digital Fiction Resources

Digital Fiction Resources

Quicklinks:

What is Digital Fiction?

Digital fiction (DF) as we understand it here at Wonderbox is:

Fictional stories that are written and read on digital devices, using some element of digital interactivity or expression (e.g., links, multimedia, gameplay). DF stories would lose something – or everything – if they were expressed in print form only.

For more thorough (and scholarly) overviews of what digital fiction is, have a look at the [S]creed for Digital Fiction, and Reading Digital Fiction’s overview.

Examples of DF include (but are definitely not limited to!) interactive fiction, text adventure games, hypertexts, Flash fictions (the ones built in Adobe Flash), multimedia fiction, mobile story apps, enhanced books, and more. We review a lot of these across a breadth of styles and platforms here on Wonderbox.

Writing Digital Fiction

(Previously posted on the Reading Digital Fiction website.)

Digital writers have historically used a lot of different platforms, often proprietary software that was both expensive, and repurposed for digital fiction. Luckily, a lot has changed as digital fiction has grown in popularity, and there are now a number of really great, inexpensive/free/open-source, built-for-purpose platforms for burgeoning digital writers to choose from.

The first step is always to check out existing digital fictions (start with our suggestions for readers and reading groups, and also review those collected at the Electronic Literature Collection and the Interactive Fiction Database), to get familiar with how digital fiction works, and be inspired by the different styles and genres you can write in.

Twine

If you are new to creating interactive texts, programs, or websites, it’s best to start simple. Twine, an open-source platform for creating hypertexts (called “Twine games”), is an excellent tool. You can build a Twine game in just a few minutes, and there is a fantastic community posting tutorials and sharing mods. The great thing about it is that as your skills advance, so does Twine; it can be adapted to work with conditionals, JavaScript, CSS, and html.

It’s worth noting that game developers often use Twine, or Twine-like environments, as planning and organizational tools for their game design. Even if you choose to go on to other platforms, Twine’s easy-to-use, visual mapping space can be a valuable tool for digital writing.

Twine resources:

Texture

Texture is a more recently developed platform, but it is already showing promise. Texture provides a WYSIWYG platform to create interactive narratives. Check out some of the Texture stories already written, and write/publish your own.

ChoiceScript

ChoiceScript is the platform used for Choice of Games fictions, and is freely available. If you enjoy CoG, or “multiple-choice games”, this is a good option.

InkleWriter

InkleWriter creates interactive stories in a scrolling visual that mimics the look of book pages, a nice crossover between interactivity and print-based stories.

Inform7 & TADS

On the purely text-based front of interactive fiction (a.k.a. text-adventure games) is Inform7 and TADS. Through these platforms, you can create parser-based interactive fictions in the mode of the old commercial games of the 1980s (think Zork or Colossal Cave Adventure). The form has turned to more of a literary bent in recent years, and experienced a resurgence.

Inform7 resources:

Adrift

Adrift is another interactive fiction/text adventure game tool. It is unfortunately Windows-only, but the benefit is that it is menu-driven rather than requiring you to learn a new coding language.

Quest

Quest allows you to create interactive fictions of the Inform7/TADS style, but without the need to learn the specific coding language.

Ren’Py & Novelty

Ren’Py and Novelty are visual novel engines. Both are free, and both offer large libraries of VNs to explore, as well as extensive tutorials on how to make them. VNs are more popular in the East Asian market than in the West, as you’ll see from the visual style, but that popularity means they have been around for a while longer, and have more examples and tutorials, than some of the other engines.

Adobe Animate CC (formerly Flash)

Flash was created as a general-purpose multimedia tool, and as such it’s A) expensive, and B) really robust (although finicky). You pay a lot for it, but you also get a lot (probably more than most digital writers need, given its wide range of uses, from multimedia websites to Flash games). A lot of digital fiction has been created on Flash, and some of the…er…”flashier” works use it well.

The limitations of Flash, of course, are well-known, as Flash has had a rocky relationship with mobile devices.

HTML-CSS-JavaScript

Because of the controversy and difficulties with Flash and mobile devices, a lot of digital writers shifted to HTML (and later, HTML5) in the early 2010s. With new attributes and potential for dynamic websites, HTML5, used in conjunction with CSS and JavaScript, enables digital writers to create fictions that work across all devices, with a minimum of adjustment between them. Clearly, working in these “pure” code-based environments requires some digital expertise, but once mastered, they offer a strong foundation for the digital writer to implement a wide array of digital fictions, from web-based dynamic texts to stand-alone mobile apps.

And finally, don’t forget the e-Book

Remember, e-Books have hypertext functionality! Using tools like Sigil and Calibre, enterprising digital writers can create hypertexts that can be enjoyed on any device, and sold through all major e-book sellers (including Amazon and the iBookstore). Our Hyperbooks project has started down this route in order to explore the commercialization potential of digital fiction and hypertexts, and we welcome all digital writers to join us!

Have other platforms or tools you like or that you built? Comment on this post with them and we’ll add them to the page.

Reading Digital Fiction

Resources for Reading DF (includes links to some great introductory DFs)

Resources for Reading Groups

Where to find DF:

Have suggestions for resources? Comment on this post with them, and we can update the page.