Whiskey and Cats, Sans Pants


I recently found some much-needed writing inspiration and encouragement by way of a book by Jeff Somers called Writing Without Rules: How to Write & Sell a Novel Without Guidelines, Experts, or (Occasionally) Pants. As you might guess, this book is often silly and irreverent, filled with asides about whiskey and cats, self-deprecating jokes, and rambling footnotes. However, I found good advice and interesting food for thought in it, as well as some welcome motivation to pick up one of my unfinished novels and finish it. Plus, it’s a very entertaining read.

I must warn, however, that this book is not for everyone. Jeff’s humor and long-winded anecdotes worked well for me, but may not for others. More importantly, beginning writers should take some of Jeff Somers’s more unconventional tips with, not merely a grain, but heaps of salt. For example, in a section of the short story chapter (which is actually, cleverly, a short story itself), Jeff seems to imply that the guidelines of short story markets are flexible and needlessly complicated and can be safely ignored. As someone who has worked as an editorial assistant and slush reader for a short story magazine, I beg you, DO NOT IGNORE GUIDELINES! Doing so makes you look unprofessional and generally ensures a swift rejection. Please, please read and follow guidelines.

Luckily, as an experienced reader and submitter of short stories, I was able to see through the untenable surface implications of this passage to the point I think Jeff was trying to make, as shown in this excerpt: “One simple fact of life is that people tell you the things they wish to be. When someone tells you they’re tough, a no-nonsense person, that’s what they want you to think of them; whether it has anything to do with reality is another matter altogether. It’s the same for fiction markets. An editor will tell you they want X, but as often as not, you show them Y and they go for it.” For me, this was the takeaway: not that guidelines for genre, word count, formatting, specific details about content/themes, etc. should be ignored, but that philosophical statements in some guidelines–i.e. “We want intricate, experimental stories and poems with gorgeous prose, verve, and imagination that elicit strong emotions and challenge beliefs” (Uncanny Magazine, one of my favorite SFF short story magazines)–are more subjective and nebulous, and one need not necessarily self-reject because of them.

All this being said, Jeff states from the beginning of the book that there are as many unique paths to being a successful writer as there are writers themselves, and he mentions repeatedly that you should take any writing advice proposed by self-styled gurus, including his own, with a grain of salt, taking what works for you and leaving the rest. Personally, I adored Writing Without Rules, and it helped give me the confidence boost I needed to work on novels again. Check out my Amazon review here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R3LIELKXVTGWIR and the book itself here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1440352925/

Choice of Games: Adventures in Interactive Fiction

It’s a game! It’s a novel! It’s…an interactive novel!

I am currently writing an interactive novel about fox spirits, magical creatures of East Asian mythology, for a company called Choice of Games, a developer of text-based games. To celebrate, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite Choice of Games titles and some resources for writing interactive fiction in the ChoiceScript programming language.

What is interactive fiction? Interactive fiction allows the reader, or player, to interact with its narrative, influencing the course of the story. Interactive fiction tends to involve role-playing, with the reader/player taking the role of a main character in the story and making decisions that affect the characters and the outcome. In this way, interactive fiction is sort of a cross between a game and a book.

If you’re interested in exploring interactive fiction, here are ten of my favorite Choice of Games interactive novels, in no particular order! All of these games/novels have first chapters that are free to play online, which gives you a taste for their stories so you can decide whether to purchase the rest. Some games I list below are even completely free to play all the way through online! I hope you will enjoy these games. I know I did.

Please note that I am an independent contractor and not an employee of Choice of Games, and I had no part in creating the games listed below. I am just a player and a fan.

1. Werewolves: Haven Rising.

In Werewolves: Haven Rising, the player assumes the role of a young werewolf in a military internment camp in what was formerly New Haven, Connecticut. The culture and history of the werewolf community is fascinating, and the game raises compelling questions about the hard choices oppressed communities must make in the face of injustice and violence. The characters are well-rounded and interesting. Also, did I mention that werewolves are really cool? I can’t wait for the next installment of this series!

2. Creatures Such as We.

Part tour guide simulator, part science fiction about the hardships of life on the moon, part philosophical exploration of the nature of art and our place in the universe, part game-within-a-game involving zombies and ghosts, and part romance (if you so desire), Creatures Such as We is hard to classify. It’s a beautiful and thought-provoking game, and it’s free to play through the whole story online. Check it out!

3. Choice of Robots.

Choice of Robots allows the player to design their own robots, controlling everything from their robots’ appearance and functions to their social intelligence. The player chooses whether to teach their robots the true meaning of love, mold them into ruthless weapons, encourage them to think for themselves, or use them to put an end to war. This game provides a ton of options for shaping the player character and their relationships as well. There are many possible branches in the second-to-last chapter of the story, which gives the game great replay value. Plus, I learned from this game that you can electrify a pickle. Good stuff!

4. Choice of Magics.

A more recent game by the author of Choice of Robots, Choice of Magics is a secondary-world fantasy that allows the player to bring the buried secrets of magic back to their player character’s nation and become a magician. The player character can use magic to reshape the world around them, creating anything from a steampunk world of airships and laser cannons to a world of magically engineered beasts such as dragons. The five different “schools” of magic in this game (which were each inspired by current real-world technology) are fascinating; each has its own rewards but also its own risks and dangers. Each branch of magic comes with its own harmful long-term consequences down the road, so the player must carefully weigh the costs and benefits of each spell they perform. Plus you get to turn people into tortoises. And play cowbell. And animate a stuffed monkey. It’s great.

5. T-Rex Time Machine.

In T-Rex Time Machine, the player goes back in time to the age of the dinosaurs. They can become a renowned filmmaker, a respected paleontologist, a brilliant physicist who unlocks the deeper mysteries of time travel, or a rugged big-game hunter. Exploring the world of dinosaurs in this game is really fun!

6. Congresswolf.

Congresswolf was the first game I bought from Choice of Games. A hybrid murder mystery, political campaign simulator, and urban fantasy about werewolves, it’s a unique and engaging game!

7. Choice of the Dragon.

In Choice of the Dragon, you play as a dragon who takes over the kingdom. Your choices shape your dragon’s brutality, finesse, cunning, honor, disdain, vigilance, infamy, and wealth. It’s an enjoyable, amusing little game, and it’s free to play all the way through online! Dragon-lovers, check it out!

8. Avatar of the Wolf.

Another secondary-world fantasy, Avatar of the Wolf lets the player assume the role of the human avatar of a vicious, powerful wolf god. It’s got interesting world-building, with a variety of cultures/peoples in the game-world and a diverse pantheon of animal gods. It also raises interesting questions about morality, religion, and free will. A lovely and compelling game.

9. Psy High.

In Psy High, the player takes the role of a high school student with psychic powers. The player can become an athlete, a nerd, a popular kid, a theater geek, or a rebellious delinquent, all while unraveling their principal’s sinister plot and finding a date for prom. It’s a neat and entertaining game!

10. Welcome to Moreytown.

Welcome to Moreytown is a gritty urban science fiction game in which you play as a genetically engineered anthropomorphic animal called a “moreau” in a world where moreaus are treated as second-class citizens. You can play as any of more than ten moreau species, from a wolf, tiger, or bear to a capybara, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. You can choose to strive for peace and harmony in your society or become the leader of a violent gang or a drug-peddling cult. It’s a nifty furry game that I really liked playing.

Thank you for reading this post! I hope it encourages you to check out Choice of Games and the variety of titles they have to offer. If you are interested in creating interactive fiction of your own using the ChoiceScript programming language created by Choice of Games, I encourage you to check out the resources below!

Resources for Creating ChoiceScript Games/Interactive Fiction: