Banter Snatch – What Do “Gamebook” Authors Say About Netflix’s Bandersnatch?

Two interactive fiction writers walk into a bar…

So, how many people called you about Bandersnatch?

Deb: More than sent me those weird New Year’s Facebook messenger memes!

James: With the cats?

Deb: Yeah, the creepy cats. People were messaging and even emailing saying, “Black Mirror have done a You Say Which Way! You’ll love it.”

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Interactive fiction authors Deb Potter and James Schannep discuss “Bandersnatch.”

James: Same. With a bit of, “You should get them to do your Click Your Poison series on Netflix!” Aha! Good point, friend. I’m just going to flip the Netflix switch on my books from “disabled” to “ready.”

Deb: And when I searched #Bandersnatch it turned out it wasn’t just geeky interactive fiction writers talking about it. Bandersnatch had millions of viewers talking about endings and story and replay. Which is quite exciting. I’m always a little bit worried people will forget how cool interactive is.

James: Hashtags! #whydidntithinkofthat

Okay, so what did we think about the episode?

Deb: Well, I was worried by the first couple of choices. The random choice of breakfast cereal and then a slightly more preference based choice of music. Sure, it’s good to test viewer can actually choose and to reinforce that choosing is how this story will be experienced – but let’s have some REAL choices soon, please.

James: That was my first instinct as well. But, I’ve since heard that it does make a difference. I’ll have to go back and see if this is true. Replay value! The hallmark of a good gamebook. Already I want to go back and watch it again.

Deb: It got better though. The next choice gave me the true pleasure of interactive fiction. I got to consider two options. And the writers fooled me, I picked “wrong” and got straight to a frustrating ending. I enjoyed that.

James: See, I didn’t like that. I felt like I was being pushed towards a single path, while I wanted to diverge and explore. I wanted to see the format tested to its limits.

Deb: But then there’s clever use of recap to get to the first meaningful choice again. That’s the next big make or break test for a good interactive story – how easy is it to re-enter the adventure and get back to a pivot in the storyline? Here’s where, as an interactive fiction writer, I give Black Mirror’s writers a gold star. Getting back into the story for a different choice is really easy and, you don’t have to go all the way back.

James: Okay, fair enough. That was extremely well done.

Deb: So next time round – about one minute in screen time later – I make another choice and then the deeper layers of the story start to unfold. As a participant I’ve had a bit of subtle training now, so I trust the experience and get into enjoying choices. Okay so “enjoy” might not be the best description. I was often frustrated by two choices that weren’t too different and, sometimes, a bit appalled at the choices. At these times I was reminded that this was Black Mirror. It’s black, it’s dark. It’s not You Say Which Way. Maybe to give us some respite there’s a bit of campy Kill Bill-esque sequence to find.

James: I’ll admit—this bit made me extremely happy. Click Your Poison isn’t meant for the young or faint of heart. There are other series (like yours!) which have covered that ground so well, that many people often default to: interactive fiction is for kids, right? Not necessarily. If you want darker, black choices, head over here to the dark side. We have cookies.

Deb: Mmph mmph, these cookies are good! Yeah, you’re right, this is interactive for grown-ups and true to what we’d expect from Black Mirror scriptwriters. The stories don’t divert much at all but there’s just enough variety, shades of noir, sledgehammer to the fourth wall, and surrealism, to keep me exploring.

James: Baby-steps. This is our first mainstream interactive TV show. There weren’t that many choices, and it didn’t seem to change the story drastically, but part of me thinks that might have been the point (in this instance). The whole thing was meant to question the concept of free will.

Let’s talk about that whole breaking the fourth wall thing – what did you think?

James: If there’s a spoiler to avoid, it’s this one. Please, if you haven’t fully explored Bandersnatch, stop now, go watch the show, then go read Deb and my books. Err, I mean, return to this interview.

Deb: But we have to talk about it!

James: Of course! I enjoyed it. [SPOILERS] Bringing Netflix in as a character was brilliant. Icing on the cake? This choice isn’t available during the first play-through. How cool is that?

Deb: There was this sort of voyeur-found-out moment that I really loved. The programmer is onto us. Then his hand is shaking as he tries to resist our choice. Nice work, Black Mirror. There’s also the potential to add more story later – additional “episodes” within Bandersnatch. If I made Black Mirror I’d do that. You could dole out more choices for people to come back to. Netflix is such an ideal medium for interactive storytelling.

James: It’s this type of innovation that will bring interactive fiction its audience. We can do things with story that a traditional show, novel, whatever, can’t do. We have replay value. We have events changing context over time and with repetition.

Deb: “The interactive special” could become a regular feature for popular shows, especially since more people are consuming TV from the web these days. It could be up there with the ubiquitous musical episode and the Christmas special.

Parting Thoughts?

Deb: You know, there’s a story in that New Year creepy cat meme going around…

James: Once you see the cat meme, you only have seven days to live. Or two months to do your taxes. Whatever’s scariest?

Deb Potter writes and publishes You Say Which Way stories for 10-12 year old readers.

James Schannep is the creator of Click Your Poison, interactive books for teens and adults.


What do YOU think?  Leave a comment below to join in the conversation.
Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Merch is now in the UK!

A few years back, Amazon invited me to make t-shirts for my brand. Until recently, this was only available in the US, but recently the option to sell “merch” has expanded to the UK. Exciting!

Check out the UK storefront for Click Your Poison t-shirts.

Check out the US storefront for Click Your Poison t-shirts.

T-shirts make great gifts, but then again, so do books! And what about autographed books, you say? Why yes, there is still time for my annual Sign & Ship.

JS Best Books of 2018

Yesterday, I announced my annual Sign & Ship deal (including my new release, MAROONED), so today I wanted to list some other books that are worth picking up this holiday season.

This is not a critical, scholarly approach to what was released in 2018. These are my favorite reads of the last year, nothing more and nothing less. I usually read 1-2 books per month, and listen to another on audio. These titles are the ones that really stood out.

Here they are, in no particular order:

Be Prepared by by Gary Greenberg & Jeannie Hayden. Yep, big life change happening this year — I’m going to be a dad in 2019. This book uses humor and wit to help inform a father-to-be while combating thoughts of “What am I doing?! I’m not ready for this!” and replacing those fears with something that’s starting to resemble confidence.

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Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. The paperback I found had been rechristened Arrival after the titular story was turned into a Hollywood movie, and I didn’t quite realize what I was picking up when I decided to check this short story collection out. But I’m glad I did. It’s an eclectic bit of storytelling, but each story makes you think about the world in a different way, which is the acme of storytelling, IMO.

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The Serpent’s Fang by Ryan Mullaney. Ryan is another self-published writer I discovered through online writer communities. This book is the start to a Tomb Raider-esque series about a female treasure hunter and makes for a fast-paced light read. If you like “popcorn fiction” maybe give it a go.

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Steam Highwayman by Martin Noutch. I met Martin when he was still working on his debut gamebook (Interactive Fiction is a small community), and I’ve had the pleasure of watching the start to his publishing career unfold. This book leans heavily on the “game” side when compared to my own series, but if you like rolling dice and keeping stats with pencil and paper, then I’d suggest grabbing a copy. Immersive story and expansive worldbuilding make for many, many hours of play.

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Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. This novella is the basis for the movie The Thing and was a treat to listen to for someone who has written both prose and screenplays. I had a vision in my head from the film, which made it fun to experience in reverse as the original 1938 story. Quite visionary and ahead of its time for early 20th century sci-fi.

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That’s it! What about you? Read anything good this year? Any book recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out my annual Sign & Ship deal before it disappears for another year!

 

Worldwide Holiday Book Signing (2018)

Christmastime is nearly upon us! Have you been hit by Whamageddon yet? Have you bought gifts for those Secret Santas in your life? Have you bought anything for the you in your life? There’s no time like the presents (see what I did there?).

Having just completed my last in-person book signing event for 2018, it’s time for my annual Sign & Ship™. I only do this once a year, so if you want a signed book or five, let me know! Just drop me a line on my contact page, and we’ll sort everything out.

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This is your first chance to get a signed copy of MAROONED if you live in the US, but all five Click Your Poison books are available for personalized autographed goodness. If you act quickly, I can get you your books prior to 25 December if you live in the US or UK. And I’m more than happy to wish your loved ones a Happy Holiday of your choice, or even a happy birthday if you’re the gift-giving sort of prepper.

In keeping with the holiday spirit, it’ll only cost you $20 for a brand new book, signed and shipped. Interested? Let me know on my contact page. Merry Happy!

Get MAROONED!

Praise for MAROONED: 

“More thrilling than fifteen men on a dead man’s chest–more fun than a bottle of rum!”
-Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island 

“If I could only bring one book to a desert island, that book would be MAROONED.”
-Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe 

“I wish I’d thought to make mine interactive…”
-Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick 

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3 Unique Storylines. Over 50 Possible Endings. Just one question… Will YOU Endure Treachery and Survival on the High Seas? 

Here’s how it works: You, Dear Reader, are the main character of this story, a youth born to prosperity in the English countryside. Now it’s up to you to sail atop the vast oceans or be swallowed into their murky depths. Each link represents a choice, and there’s no going back, so choose wisely.

Whether you’re a fan of classic books series like Horatio Hornblower and Aubrey/Maturin, or more modern films and shows like Pirates of the Caribbean or Black Sails, you can now live your own high seas adventure! Like the gamebooks popular in the 1980s-90s (Choose Your Own Adventure, Give Yourself Goosebumps, etc), this is a series where you choose how to progress through the book. Unlike any others, this is the first novel-length interactive book series for adults. And as an ebook, you simply click your choice and the story flows forward for you. No flipping pages.

Prefer a paperback? Make your choice:

You’re captive on a pirate ship, but the Royal Navy is giving chase. What do YOU do?

-Find a weapon. Time to fight off these pirates and help your liberators! Go to page 106
-Sabotage the ship. Drop the anchor and strike the sails! Go to page 259

Get MAROONED today!

Message in a Bottle (MAROONED Update!)

Wow, I haven’t blogged since November. That makes this my first blog post of 2018! Yikes! It’s almost like I’ve been stranded on a deserted island, only to finally be rescued….

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I’m sorry I’ve been silent these last months, but the silver lining is that I’ve been toiling away during this period of obscurity. For those of you who’ve been eagerly awaiting my next book, the wait is nearly finished!

That’s right, the first draft of MAROONED is complete and I’ve moved onto editing. This means I’m going to need Beta Readers! (see below).

First edit: it’s no longer going to be called “Classically MAROONED.” Why? As previously mentioned, when I originally came upon the age of sail/pirate adventure idea, I had envisioned a retelling of classics like Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, or Moby Dick. But as I started researching, I kept coming up with ideas on how I would have done those stories myself.

So, nothing classic here. Just my own original ideas. It’s still set in that classic age of seafaring where you can dash into the role of dashing naval officer, cut to the quick as a cutthroat pirate, or cast your lot as a castaway. No need for a modifier, just an opportunity to get MAROONED!

I’ve had a blast writing and researching this book, and the result is a (mostly) historically accurate look into this seafaring world of adventure and a realistic test of survival skills needed on a deserted isle. Interested in an early read?

A Call for Beta Readers

I need your feedback to really make this book shine. Like someone beta-testing a game, you’ll playtest this gamebook, giving it a few read-throughs and let me know your thoughts. This isn’t to make sure my grammar and spelling are publication ready (that comes later), but rather to ensure the story is as compelling as can be.

The call for Beta Readers will come exclusively through my mailing list (which I’ve also neglected of late). So…if you want in, or at least want to hear the latest, sign up now.

From here, progress should move very quickly. Once I receive notes, make another round of edits, and send the book off to be proofread and formatted, MAROONED should come to you sometime this summer! I’m hoping for July/August.


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? 

Leave me a comment below, and don’t forget to share and subscribe!

Signed Books for X-mas! (2017)

Happy Holidays! If you’re interested, I’d love to scribble on some dead trees for you. Now, that may seem strange, but I only do this event once per year. Otherwise you have to (or, I suppose, “get to”?) see me in person if you want a signed book.

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Classically MAROONED is still underway, full sail ahead, as it were. I’ve hit nearly 50,000 words and I’ve all but completed the intro and one of the three main storylines. Sadly, that book will not be available for Christmas, but all four of my other Click Your Poison titles are ready for signing and shipping!

Whatever you are or are not celebrating (Festivus? A coincidental birthday? The fact that the sky didn’t fall in 2017?), this is the perfect gift for your favorite reader (who, technically, can just be you). Let’s call it 20 schmeckles to sign and ship a book.

Hit me up on my contact page for more info and Happy Merry!