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.


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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!

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!

 

That Time in Lincoln

No, not Nebraska. The first one. The one in its own ‘Shire (sadly, no one calls them that here). The one from Ye Olde Worlde! Lincoln, Lincolnshire. The next in my Travels While Living in the UK series! As I get further along in this process, you’ll see more hyperlinks in the travel log below:

November/Dec – Arrival in the UK, hotel living for a month, road trip around Southern England for Christmas and New Year’s.
January – Finally moved into our house! Visited Lincolnshire, England.
February – Oxford and York.
March – London for St Patty’s, then Oberammergau, Germany for a week.
April – Scotland and Madrid trips.
May – More local and Londonian fun, and a trip stateside for a friend’s wedding.

Lincoln was our first getaway after moving into our house, so is as good as any place to jump in and blog about. We had no idea what to expect, but as the home of one of four original copies of the Magna Carta, you know there’s some history.

King Westley the First
T’was a pet-friendly vacation! Here we have Lord Westley surveying our hotel room from his gilded perch.

Let’s jump right in and visit:

Lincoln Castle

Lincoln Castle is steeped in history. Constructed in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, this castle was built on top of a pre-existing Roman fortress. It was later used as a prison into modern times, but now serves as a museum where it houses ruins of its previous lives, as well as an original copy of the Magna Carta!

Each of the photos above has a brief caption, though you’ll note a distinct lack of Magna Carta pictures. They aren’t allowed. It must truly be seen to be believed! The interior display boasts how this important document introduced the idea that all men are created equal, and credits itself as the forebear to the American constitution and the concept of Civil Rights. While perhaps this is overstating the document’s staying power a bit, it was indisputibly fun to see the document with its original parchment, ink, and seal

Lincoln Cathedral

The castle’s nearby sibling, the Lincoln Cathedral is technically the owner of the Magna Carta, and is an impressive structure in its own right. Built around the same time, this cathedral was the tallest structure in the world for over 200 years due to its central spire (which, sadly, collapsed around 500 years ago).

In addition to its use for Anglican ceremonies (we a caught chorale performance of “evensong”) it’s also a big draw to tourists. And, oddly enough, despite quickly approaching its 1000-year birthday, we were invited to bring our dog inside. This only added to the unique experience of exploring one of the largest cathedrals in the UK.

Food, Drink, Fun

Get thee to a yummery! In Lincoln there are some delectable bites to be had, and I enjoyed my first taste of UK whiskey with samples at the aptly-named “The Lincoln Whisky Shop.” I decided to buy a bottle of “Writer’s Tears” which I’m saving for tears of joy, I’ll have you know.

That’s an actual, honest to goodness, Roman archway. Which leads me to…

My Takeaways

I couldn’t get over the beautiful history of Lincoln (and England as a whole). The “old town” is built up on a hill as part of the original castle defense, while the more modern area is along the river, down a hill so steep it would put San Francisco to shame. Funny, I must have been too busy breathing heavily to take a picture.

Our B&B was in this upper, historic part of town, but the entire area was a pleasure to walk daily. As a bit of respite from said overwhelmingly beautiful history, I managed to sneak an afternoon down to the riverfront cinema to catch the latest Star Wars flick:

Though part of my “awe” could be attributed to this being my first UK town to really spend some time in and explore, overall, I’d put Lincoln as a must-see for anyone travelling through the middle of England. And I wish I’d taken more pictures!


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Enjoy “following” me on my travels? Want to read more blog posts like this one?

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That Time in Oberammergau

I’m coming up on living in the UK for 6-months! And while I’ve told you what parts I love, and what parts have no love lost, I haven’t stopped to tell you what I’ve been up to.
Other than, you know, that whole Star Wars reboot thing.

So, time to update my travel journals.

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Follow us on our ah-maze-ing adventures!

Here’s what’s happened so far:

November/Dec – Arrival in the UK, hotel living for a month, road trip around Southern England for Christmas and New Year’s.
January – Finally moved into our house! Visited Lincolnshire, England.
February – Oxford and York.
March – London for St Patty’s, then Oberammergau, Germany for a week.
April – Scotland and Madrid trips.
May – More local and Londonian fun, and a trip stateside for a friend’s wedding.

T20170327_102931he next six months look to be much more ambitious. The goal is to hit a different spot in the UK every month, and somewhere else in Europe every other month.

I should probably blog about all these things, and maybe I will, but for now I’m jumping into the middle. That’s a classic storytelling technique known as in medias res, which is Latin/Pretentious for “into the middle [of] things.”

So, let’s start with Oberammergau, Germany. This was our first European trip, so it’s a beginning of sorts.

Come with me, fly into Munich, which is actually Munchen, but is called Munich because…globalism? Then we’ll take the Autobahn and max out the rental car’s four-cylinder engine until the display screams, “SLOW DOWN – SNOW TIRES!!!”


Food and Drink

I’m not going to pretend to speak for the entire country, or even the region (Bavarian Alps), but I am going to make a few generalizations. The first, is that this is a “meat and potatoes” kind of place. If you ask for a salad, you’ll get one, but it’ll be made out of potatoes.

Let’s talk about the pictures above. Clockwise, from bottom right.

  1. Prost! Welcome to Germany, land of the beer. On this trip I discovered Weissbier, which in its unfiltered form, makes for a unique, tasty, frothy treat. Sort of like the Hefeweizen I’m used to, only more floral and playful. I’m still hooked months later.
  2. Though we went at the start of springtime, this is still mountain country and there was a chill in the air at night. Some warm mulled wine helped immensely.
  3. Bavarians are known for their sweets, and my week here did not disappoint.
  4. Ox steak. A new culinary adventure for me, if not for the region. Cooking ox with smoked hay seemed all the rage, and why not, it worked. Definitely a pricey meal, though not outrageous and certainly worth it.
  5. This fried chunk of meat  (bigger than the size of my fist!) was called a “pork knuckle.” Add a dumpling, cover it all in gravy, and you get a deliciously rich and heartburn-inducing meal.

Sights and Sites; Scenes and Seeings

In addition to having a really fun name, Oberammergau has many desirable qualities. Not the least of which, is that it’s a sleepy town without a lot of foreign tourism. Many German tourists do indeed travel here, and there are always foreigners present, because it’s the location of a NATO training school. But there’s a delightfully pastoral “untouched by the world” feel to the town.

I won’t go on and on breaking these pictures down one-by-one (though they do have captions). Instead, here’s generally what you see above:

We stayed in a mountain town with amazing views. The first picture is taken from our hotel. Others are right around–it’s a small hamlet. There is an awesome restaurant that one can hike to, which is a steep walk, but worth it. And boy does all that rich food taste amazing afterwards. There are walking trails everywhere, nice wide open ones. And there are monks who brew and distill. Like a lot of the Old World, the churches are the some of the most impressive sights in the town. They are a wood carving people, who also love their meat so much it’s stored in vending machines.

The Passion of Oberammergau

Once a decade, the whole town comes together to put on a play about the life and times of Jesus Christ. You read that correctly. Once a decade, for like three months straight. Hundreds of thousands of people journey to this remote hamlet for the play which is literally performed by the entire town.

Unfortunately, the play won’t be going on next until 2020, but I was able to learn quite a bit from the museum (pictures above). The story goes, that the town vowed to perform this play to honor God if He would spare them from the plague. Well, seems to have worked, because the townspeople have been dutifully holding up their end of the bargain for nearly 400 years!

Ludwig II’s Two Castles

Beyond the Passion Play, the area is most well-known for the architecture of King Ludwig II. The first castle we visited was his home in the last years of his life, while the second was the famed Neuschwanstein castle, still incomplete, yet world-renowned for giving its iconography to Walt Disney’s logo.

Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside. These were works of art, modern for their time and gilded to the gills. Beautiful spots, worth visiting.

My Takeaways

It was nice getting some springtime sunshine after the damp cold of British winter. I joked after I first arrived that the most notable difference between the two countries is that they sell sunglasses in Germany.

With a name like Schannep, I must have some German heritage somewhere (though no evidence of it in Oberammergau…).

Don’t mind me, just blending in.

I lived in Germany from kindergarten to second grade while my dad was stationed here by the Army. My memories are mostly of Kinder eggs, sledding, playmobile toys, and mainly just being a kid. I have memories of seeing a salt mine, some mountaintops, and sites outside of Germany like the leaning tower of Pisa.

And then there’s spaghetti eis.

“Eis” is the German word for ice cream, and this was without a doubt my favorite childhood dessert. A layer of whipped cream serves as a base, which is then topped by vanilla ice cream/gelato put through a press so it comes out to look like spaghetti noodles. A strawberry “meat” sauce topped with white chocolate “parmesan” shavings completes the illusion.

Spaghetti was my favorite meal, ice cream the best treat, which made this confection the perfect go-between.

I had spaghetti eis here in Oberammergau for the first time in at least twenty-five years. Mostly as a novelty, I ordered it up, expecting something deeply sugary-sweet, but I got more than I bargained for.

With the first bite, my entire body swirled with warmth, like a hug from a loved one after a prolonged absence. I couldn’t have described the taste or texture by memory, but this was comfort on an instinctual level. It’s moments like these that make travel so rewarding.


Thanks for reading! What do YOU think? Enjoy “following” me on my travels? Want to read more blog posts like this one?

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