Ever, Jane brings Regency-era sensibilities to gaming

Photo courtesy EverJane.com.

Video games have always been touted as an interactive storytelling medium, and never has that been truer than today: with endless genres and character customization options, no matter who a player is looking to be and no matter where they want to be, there’s almost certainly something out there that will speak to them.

Ever, Jane is an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, a la World of Warcraft) set in the world of Jane Austen. Created by Judy L. Tyrer, founder of 3Turn Productions, the game sets itself apart from other multi-players. “Unlike many multi-player games, it’s not about kill or be killed but invite or be invited,” says the game’s description. “Gossip is our weapon of choice. Instead of raids, we will have grand balls. Instead of dungeons, we will have dinner parties.” (If you’d like to get some initial impressions of it from people who have already played, there’s a good article about that here.)

Finding novelty in telling stories through video games

This is by no means the first time a book-based story has been turned into a game. For example, Nancy Drew has an entire video game series, published by HeR Interactive, that unfolds much like the book series. Harry Potter has thoroughly infiltrated the Lego game world. The Witcher games are based on The Witcher short stories and novels by Andrzej Sapkowski. But none of these games are MMORPGs, and to open up Jane Austen’s world to that particular style of gameplay is an interesting, and perhaps bold, concept.

Off the bat, the game has a few things going for it. Jane Austen has a significant fan base, and of course there is an intersect point where “Jane Austen fans” and “gamers” meet. Most gamers love a good story and the immersion a good game can provide, which is why the MMORPG genre is a (wildly popular) thing to begin with. Jane Austen’s world as the backdrop to a video game has a certain novelty that could draw in even those who don’t normally hold with MMOs, and the inventive twist of popular mechanics (words instead of weapons, balls instead of battlegrounds), if handled correctly, could draw some interesting parallels about how there’s more than one kind of fighting in Jane Austen’s world—to say nothing of the possibility of creating a character and plunging yourself into all the Regency-era shenanigans you can handle.

Give it a try?

I’ve not played the game myself, so I can’t speak to its execution, and all the latest information I can find on the game suggests that it may still be in beta. But certainly the concept is an interesting one. The primary question for me is, just how big a fan of Jane Austen’s work do you have to be to enjoy the game? Can you successfully navigate this MMORPG if you haven’t memorized everything about Regency-era literature? Will you get shamed by the other players if you misstep? Exactly how much freedom do you have to drive the development of your character? (I admit, I am sorely tempted to download the game simply to insert my 21st-century persona and scandalize the town—though, to be fair, I have the same inclinations when reading Jane Austen novels.)

I’d be interested to hear from someone who has jumped slipper-first into this game. How have you fared? How much is story and how much is creating your own destiny? What kind of success can you find if you just want to play as a writer who doesn’t dance and lives alone, surrounded by books and a cat or two (asking for a friend)?

 

 

Writing Prompt: The Writing Spaces Project

Writing Spaces Project on Instagram shows “the spaces where writers research, nap, procrastinate, and, eventually, write.” I loved the idea so much that I decided to create my own prompt for this Writing Prompt Wednesday: Tell everyone about your writing space.

My primary writing space is in my home office, where I also work every day. I have two desks: one for work, and one for everything else. “Everything else” includes gaming, paying bills, watching online shows, surfing the internet, and, of course, writing for myself.

I feel like my personal desk is a decent representation of how I feel being a creative writer in the internet age: I adore my computer and everything it allows me to do, but there are still significant chunks of me that like to hold on to the older methods of writing: my Royal typewriter, a Christmas gift from my now-fiance, sits in place-of-pride right next to the computer I use every day. My computer keyboard is mechanical, and the keys give off that loud “clack clack” noise that I love in typewriters. I have a container of pens, whiteboard markers, and highlighters at hand for my many notepad scribbles. My Kindle sits with my latest favorite cover, hot air balloons (because it’s bright and cheerful and I love hot air balloons), and my desk’s backdrop is two of the four bookcases that line an entire wall of my office.

I am never quite satisfied with the way my office is set up, perhaps because I spend the majority of my time in it and it has to serve multiple functions. It is 100% my space, to do with as I like, but I always feel a bit cramped, and sometimes it’s difficult to want to be in the room after my work for the day is over. It is, after all, where my job mostly happens, and who wants to stay at work after hours? Like most things in the life of a writer, it is a work in progress that will never quite be done to my satisfaction.

What does your writing space look like? How does it inspire you?

Amazon to open more bookstores in 2018

Amazon will be opening two new bookstores, in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas, in 2018, according to the company. The new outlets will bring the total of Amazon Books locations to 15 after the two remaining stores scheduled for 2017 openings (in Los Angeles, California and Walnut Creek, California) are completed.

Since Amazon’s first brick-and-mortar bookstore opening in 2015 (in Seattle, Washington), the company has picked up its expansion pace, suggesting that there are enough Amazon fans heading to their physical stores to make the investments worth it. Of course, places like Seattle, San Diego, Chicago, and New York seem to be fairly obvious choices for an online bookseller’s foray into the physical space due to either novelty or easy access, both of which would serve as draws for the demographics of those cities. But still, Amazon is known in certain circles as the bookstore killer—what is it doing building a presence in a way that seems counter to its all online, all the time business model, and can it really be as successful as opening 15 stores in three years would suggest?

Amazon brings the online space to brick-and-mortar

There are some definite quirks to Amazon’s bookstores. All the titles are front-facing, for instance, altering the traditional feel of browsing book spines with the occasional featured cover. Customers can scan the books with their Amazon app for more information (they can also pay with said app—in fact, the app is very closely integrated with the entire store experience). Prime members get discounts. Featured shelves in the store include “Hot on Amazon Books” as well as the more traditional “New Releases,” and the in-store inventory is largely curated based on Amazon.com reviews and other data points pulled from Amazon online purchasing habits, updated weekly.

It’s an interesting look for a megaretailer known almost exclusively for its online spaces.

Backlash in the bookselling community

It’s not hard to guess why other booksellers are not exactly fans of Amazon Books. Many of the cities where these stores are staking their claims are known for their independent literary scenes, and the struggle of independent bookstores to succeed in the Age of Amazon is a well-known one. Talk about adding insult to injury: to lose business to an online monolith, only to have that monolith then set up shop right next door?

But what do traditional booksellers have that Amazon Books doesn’t? Well, according to some, regular bookstores have a soul that Amazon simply can’t understand. Amazon, they suggest, is merely copy-pasting its online presence into the physical world, and even adding cafés to their stores won’t change that. Only time will tell on that front, but it’s probably fair to say that there will always be people looking for the in-store experience. And if Amazon continues to make life difficult for the competition, what’s to stop them from sweeping in and taking their place “IRL”?

 

Who has the time?

Today marks the end of the first week of this website’s re-launch, and already I remember why the website lapsed into the forgotten recesses of my brain in the first place: time. Or, rather, lack of time.

It’s hard to find the time to write. Nearly every writer will back me up on this, especially those of us with full-time day jobs that do not involve writing. (Yes, I do get to write for my job, but it’s strictly industry, and I love what I do but trends and analyses just don’t satisfy that creative itch, you know?) Even with the best of intentions, it’s ridiculously easy to let things slide. You have a partner who would love to spend time with you, or a baby who will only relax if he’s in your arms, or a million-and-one errands to run. You have friends to catch up with and sleep to catch up on. You have showers to take and groceries to buy and you have to pay for the roof over your head month after month, like clockwork, so speaking of work and clocks, you’d better get to it. It’s the age-old conundrum: where do I find the time to do it all?

The answer, I’m sorry to say, is that you don’t. You can’t do it all, and all the self-help gurus in the world telling you otherwise won’t make it so. Some days your job will suffer. Some days your family will draw the short straw. Some days you’ll skip the shower. Some days you won’t have time to even text with your friends. And some days, you won’t write.

If you don’t do it for a living (and, I suspect, even if you do), writing, like most things in our over-scheduled world, has to become a habit—something you do so often that not doing it makes you antsy and uncomfortable. I’m a runner, and when I don’t or can’t go running, I get irritable. I am a much better human when I can run, because my body is used to being physically active. It is, as far as my body is concerned, a habit. Breaking a habit is hard, and not at all fun. But first, I have to run regularly, so I get used to it. I have to form the habit to begin with.

So.

I’m at the beginning, where I’ve been countless times before when life has gotten in the way of my writing for extended periods of time. I have to make my contributions to this website a habit and, hopefully, training myself to write here will lead to my ability to write elsewhere. That’s what I’m aiming for, anyway.

What are your best tips for finding time to write?

Writing Prompt: the fun of holus-bolus

The Prompt: Dictionary Definition: Open up a dictionary to a random word. Define what that word means to you.

Used with permission under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.

Believe it or not, I no longer have a physical copy of a dictionary in my possession. I really need to purchase some latest-and-greatest version for the sake of my dignity, but in the meantime, I’m rolling with Merriam-Webster’s word of the day (via their amazing Twitter account): holus-bolus, an adverb meaning “all at once.”

I vaguely remember reading about this word somewhere at some point in time, but I didn’t remember what it meant, so here’s what Merriam-Webster has to say about it:

“The story of holus-bolus is not a hard one to swallow. Holus-bolus originated in English dialect in the mid-19th century and is believed to be a waggish reduplication of the word bolus. Bolus is from the Greek word bōlos, meaning “lump,” and has retained that Greek meaning. In English, bolus has additionally come to mean “a large pill,” “a mass of chewed food,” or “a dose of a drug given intravenously.” Considering this “lumpish” history, it’s not hard to see how holus-bolus, a word meaning “all at once” or “all in a lump,” came about.”

I love the way this word sounds. Go ahead, say it out loud. Isn’t it fun? And couldn’t you almost guess what it means just by the way it comes out? It feels like an adjective, like I’m referring to something useless or silly, perhaps because of its audial proximity to “hocus-pocus.” Or as though it might be a cousin to “willy-nilly,” an adverb with the same devil-may-care approach to life. While you could (and indeed likely do) just settle on “all at once,” that phrase doesn’t have the same hand-waving flair to it that “holus-bolus” has. And as it’s partially derived by a fun reduplication of “bolus” anyway, why not give it its irreverent due?

You tell me: Why the Seattle Mystery Bookshop is closing

Photo used with permission under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.

This morning, I came upon a blog post from the owner of Seattle Mystery Bookshop, an independent, mystery-focused bookstore that is closing its doors on September 30, 2017. Now, it’s no secret that independent bookstores are a disappearing breed, as much as all book lovers adore them (or, at least, adore the idea of them). On the one hand: they have personalities, they are personable, and they are chock-full of like-minded bibliophiles. On the other hand: they are more expensive, carry less in-house inventory, and can’t really compete with the conveniences of mass market bookstores and online booksellers.

Why the independents are failing is something the owner of Seattle Mystery Bookshop, who identifies as “JB” both in the post and on the store’s website, covers quite fully—and, in my opinion, quite accurately. Large bookstores are in hot waters of their own these days, and they have a lot more flexibility when it comes to every aspect of business. How is a small bookstore, especially one that caters to a specific submarket within the overall book market (say, the mystery genre) supposed to survive? It’s like JB says: “At one time, when this shop was young, there were at least three dozen independent mystery bookshops around the globe. NYC had four. DC had three. Now there are but a handful. It isn’t just us. I am dead certain that none of those that closed wanted to, but, in the end, there was no choice.”

So, take a look at JB’s post, and tell me: what do you think is the largest culprit in the death of independent bookstores? Is it Amazon? The so-called “Mega Stores,” who are paying their own piper these days? The rise of e-books and overall growth of media accessibility? The economy?

Is there any hope left for the little guy, or should we all welcome our new e-overlords?

Barnes & Noble makes moves to maintain college customers

Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Barnes and Noble Book Store” by JeepersMedia is licensed under Creative Commons.

On Friday, Bloomberg Dividend Forecast said it expects Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) to cut its payout in half this week, to $0.075. It’s an unsurprising forecast given B&N’s (and let’s be honest, just about everyone else’s) continuing struggle to hold ground against the online purchasing revolution (AKA, Amazon.com) that has made nearly all forms of media almost instantly accessible at bargain prices.

B&N Education segment falls short of expectations

At the end of August, stocks of Barnes & Noble Education (NYSE: BNED) fell 17.7% to $5.61 as the company released its Q1 2018 financial results, which included a consolidated net loss of $34.8 million and a reported 2.5% decrease in B&N college comparable store sales.

It would seem that confidence in the company’s abilities to stay relevant in an age of textbook rentals and online resale is dropping, in spite of B&N’s every effort and results: according to the Q1 report, B&N’s education segment reported revenue of $355.7 million, up 48.7% from the previous year’s Q1 numbers (but short of the predicted $406.22 million). In addition, the company wrapped up its acquisition of Student Brands LLC, a leading direct-to-student subscription-based writing skills services business, in August for $58.5 million.

Student Brands is expected to contribute more than $10 million of EBITDA to [B&N Education]’s consolidated results over the next twelve months and significantly expands the company’s opportunity to market the services students need to improve performance in the classroom and to secure jobs after graduation,” said B&N in its Q1 report.

B&N College Booksellers has partnered with Target to promote Target’s college essentials products, aiming to expand customers in B&N’s nearly 800 college stores throughout the U.S., and opened 24 new physical stores in Q1 with total annual sales estimated at $49 million. B&N also acquired MBS Textbook Exchange in February. It seems like B&N is doing all it can to maintain what has been a core customer base (i.e., college students) for the company.

B&N Education 2018 outlook

For all its expansions and acquisitions and partnerships, B&N said in its Q1 report that “for fiscal year 2018, the company expects sales at [B&N College Booksellers] to be relatively flat, while [B&N College Booksellers] comparable store sales are projected to decline in the low- to mid-single digit percentage point range year over year.” Not an optimistic statement for a company that seems to be doing its level best to get involved in every potential education-related avenue available.

Going Back to the Start

I have serious commitment issues when it comes to the ends of my stories.

There, I said it. I can start a story with the best of them. I can throw my characters into all manner of unsightly and unpleasant situations; I can make them love, hate, burst into tears, rage to the heavens or even sulk in a dark corner when warranted, but writing that final, climactic scene and resolving all their earthly (or unearthly, as the case may be) troubles often eludes me to the point of utter despair. I cannot even begin to count the number of unfinished stories I have languishing on my hard drive, characters poised mid-angst, begging for literary peace.

Instead of peace, I give them cold, hard abandonment. Weeks, months, years go by. I set a perfectly good plot aside, people and places I’ve invested metaphorical blood and sweat and tears in, and force myself to forget all about them. When all else fails (read: when I don’t have a professor breathing down my neck for a graded ending), I simply let my stories go, like birds longing to be free.

And I wait.

Until one day, completely out of the blue, the story will edge its way back into my thoughts. I might be looking for inspiration regarding a different story, or having a completely unrelated conversation that triggers a stray memory, or read a book with a character that reminds me of one of my own. However it happens, the seed is replanted, and there it sits, growing in the back of my mind, pushing against its boundaries until I am suitably nagged enough to pull it up on my computer. And that’s when the fun starts.

Have you ever gone back to a story you haven’t looked at in a while? Inevitably, one of three things happens (listed here, in order of increasing likelihood):

1)      “Oh,” you say as you go through your piece, nodding your head in surprised satisfaction. “Well, this isn’t so bad at all. I can work with this. An edit here and there and I can just keep going right where I left off! This is great!”

2)      “Oh dear,” you say as you go through your piece, shifting your eyes around to make sure no one else is in the room with you. “This…well, this is not completely unsalvageable. These pages will have to go, of course, and this entire chapter—I must have written this after that thing at that place with those people last year. But no, yeah, I can totally do this. Absolutely. The names are great. I won’t change those.”

3)      “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD,” you cry to the heavens as you throw your hands helplessly in the air and lean as far away as you can get from the horrors on your computer screen. “WHAT WAS I THINKING?”

We’ve all been there—blinking at the words we know we must have written down, because the files and pages are most certainly ours, but how, how did those ideas ever make it past our mental editor and into the fabric of our story? Maybe this is why I have such trouble with the words “The End.” Because as a writer, I know that the first completed draft is really only the beginning, the tip of the revisional iceberg. And I worry that, for all my slaving away to get my characters through their trials and over that peak and across the finish line—what if I make it all the way back to the start only to find that the road, once smooth enough to traverse, has become the very quagmire we all fear our stories will turn out to be?

Saturday, Sunday, Snapshots

“I’m up, I’m up,” she grumbles to her Saturday morning chores as they mock her cheerfully from their spots in the living room and kitchen. The cats simply stare at her with yellow and green eyes, waiting for her to pull the blinds so they can get to the difficult business of laying in the sun while their human does all the heavy lifting.

The chocolate fudge cake sits innocently in the refrigerator surrounded by basmati rice, free-range eggs and skim milk, the light from within highlighting it like a gift from the heavens. She glances at it, then at the stove’s clock, then back at it again, biting her lip and tapping her finger on the fridge door. What good is being an adult if you can’t have cake for breakfast, she decides with a shrug and a smirk.

’90s West Coast rap is good music to clean to. She knows their younger versions would vehemently disagree, but the thought of present-day Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre loading their dishwashers to their old music makes washing her own dishes a little more palatable.

A second piece of cake for lunch really won’t hurt anything.

She goes to Target for hardware to hang a couple of paintings. She comes out with hardware and a book. How did she even manage to find the book section at Target? Can books be considered a vice? Her to-read pile is monstrous enough, but she was already two chapters in taking up space in the middle of the aisle and by then she figured she might as well just buy the thing. There is, after all, no such thing as too many books.

The living room furniture could do with some rearranging, she thinks. Whether it needs to be done at midnight, however, is up for debate.

No matter her intentions, Sunday almost always ends up being a throwaway day, a true day of rest. “Any chance you’ve learned to cook?” she asks her cats, but they are in the sun again, which now crosses the rearranged furniture, and don’t even bother twitching their warm, languid tails at her in negation. She sighs heavily and stands, contemplating her food stores as she makes her way to the kitchen. The cake, after all, didn’t live to see the end of Saturday.

It’s All in My Head

My writing process, should I ever become noteworthy, will be the despair of Literature students everywhere. I know people who live and die by the outline, but outlines are the arch nemesis to my creative process—no good has ever come of my attempting one, either for class or on my own.

And character sketches? My characters and I came to an agreement long ago that I would give them names, and descriptions, and send them out into the worlds I create to make their fortunes. As long as they do roughly what I instruct them to, and stay more-or-less on the side I need them to (the last thing I need is my main protagonist becoming my main antagonist three-quarters of the way through a story with no backup plan in place), I mostly sit on their shoulders and let them run the show. This came about because whenever I try to force my characters too strongly in a particular direction or down a particular plotline, it invariably ends in full-blown disaster and prodigious use of my delete key.

Frankly, the Delete key is too small and out-of-the-way on my laptop to be bothered with.

So, about 85% of my writing process, such as it is, takes place in my head—long before I sit down anywhere near a computer. First, I am struck with a story idea. I’ve had ideas hit me in the form of a single quote, a flash of what the main character looks like, a plotline, an entire scene, even something as nebulous as a theme I’d like to convey. Whatever it is, I grab on to it and mull it over, in my mind, for weeks. I’ll contemplate things while I’m driving to work, eating lunch, falling asleep in bed, brushing my teeth, in line at the grocery store—whatever people normally put down on paper to flesh out a story idea, I lay out in my head. Eventually my seed of an idea stretches out in my brain like a vast landscape, and only when I feel like I have something to work with—enough pages of notes, so to speak—do I finally fire up the computer and get to the business of bringing my creation to life.

My mental organization carries me throughout the entirety of my writing. Plotline stressing me out? I worry it like a dog with a bone, but only in my head. Need to refine a scene? I’ll run dialogue with my characters, but no one will ever find any written evidence of my drafts. The only partial drafts of my work are in the wrinkles of my brain, and the only times I take actual, physical notes are when something comes to me at so inopportune a time that I worry I’ll forget what I’ve come up with.

I wonder, sometimes, if there are other people who have such a heavily mental process to their writing. I suppose I find physical outlining cumbersome; it only slows me down and I was always resentful when a professor insisted upon it in class. At the same time, I’ve never met two people with the same writing process, and I’m always fascinated by what fellow writers need to wrangle their creativity. Maybe one day I’ll regret not having notes to go with my work. Maybe my process will change. Maybe my brain will burst, a shower of characters and plotlines raining down all around me in gleeful freedom. Until such a time, however, I’m perfectly content to let it remain all in my head.

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” —Ernest Hemingway
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