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.”

bandersnatch choice
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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The Future, Origins, Ramblings, and Shamblings

What’s new? Quite a bit with me, as it turns out.

May was a huge month in the world of Click Your Poison, with a new book launch, and a $0.99 sale for the series. In fact, I had over a thousand ebook sales on Amazon for the month! Weee! (SUPERPOWERED is still on sale for the next two weeks).

I also did a live interview/chat on google+ which you can watch a recording of below. In it, I announced my plans for the next book, which I’ll go more into after the jump.

For CYP#4, I’m returning to the storyworld of INFECTED. You’ll get to play as the supporting cast from the original, to survive the initial outbreak from each of their perspectives. While it’s technically a prequel, I think of it more as a sister story, and you don’t need to have INFECTED memorized to enjoy INFECTED Origins.

For me, I see it as a challenge as a writer and an opportunity to grow. I’ve tried to keep out of your head and did my best to keep telling-you-what-you’re-thinking to a minimum, and to make the protagonist’s age, gender, and race as neutral as I can so you could better delve into the story as a reader.

But not with this book. Each character has a rich background with firm viewpoints about the world. So you’ll get to Being John Malkovich the story and ride along in someone else’s head. Crazy? Maybe. We’ll see.

Stay tuned for updates as the book comes along. I probably won’t have room for every single character in the book, so expect cast announcements as well. If there’s someone you think is a must-have for the book, let me know in the comments below.

Also on the horizon: I’ll be updating my events tab soon, with a confirmed signing in Central Texas this summer, and possibly here in Denver (SUPERPOWERED just got accepted at the Tattered Cover Bookstore — yay!)

Oh, and I’m doing a rafflecopter contest thinger too. Check it out: a Rafflecopter giveaway.


Add your opinion in the comments below. And don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe!

A. Wrighton — Interview Swap!

A couple of weeks ago I was approached by an author on twitter who asked me if I’d like to participate in an ‘Interview Swap.’ Through the process, I’ve met the whip-smart and extraordinarily creative fantasy author, A. Wrighton. You can see my side of the Q&A on the A. Wrighton blog here.

Thus far, I’ve been able to accommodate any requests for interviews (Love ’em), but I’ve yet to actually interview someone myself. So I said, “Sure!” and started brainstorming a list of questions. I should’ve asked her why she enigmatically goes only by the letter “A”, but, as I said I’m only a novice interviewer. Here’s the Q&A I managed:

bigheadshot_AWrighton_BW
Author A. Wrighton

Tell us a bit about yourself (bio):
I started writing when I was really little, about 5, and at that point I had been telling stories for a few years. (Yes, seriously). I’ve dabbled in every kind of writing you can think of – fan fic, video games, comic books, novels, novellas, short films, web series, feature films, animation, etc. – and love helping and networking with other writers. I’ve lived in or visited almost every state in the U.S. and I was once fluent in Spanish, Latin, and Arabic. I have a B.A. in English/Literature and I took home the highest honors for my M.F.A. in Creative Writing program. I like fruit, coffee, and football and when I am not writing, I am hiking, sleeping, or playing with my family & two pups. 

And a quick blurb on your book:
World War II with a victorious Third Reich – with dragons and less guns.
What? You said quick!
It boils down to this: Defiance: Dragonics & Runics Part I  is the first in a quartet of epic novels that enlist you in the Resistance movement against a tyrannical dictator who has successfully murdered the entire race of magic-wielding people, the Runics. Following a Prophecy slated to free Solera and return the Realm to greatness, the Rogue Dragonics – Dragon Riders who disobeyed the order to slaughter the Runics – search for The One and the Five Catalysts that will enact the Prophecy and restore freedom and Justice. The Rogues have a breakthrough when they decipher a predecessor’s log and realize one Runic – of untold power – escaped the Council’s grasp. Find her, and the Resistance will be one step closer to the Prophecy’s success. The only problem is – they aren’t the only ones looking for her.

What inspired you to start writing? How old were you?
As long as I can remember I was telling stories. My first recorded (on paper in my mother’s garage) was in Kindergarten when I was 5. I think it has 11 words total.

How would you characterize your writing style?
I don’t characterize my style. I write in my own voice and what you read, is who I am. I bend the rules but only because I know and respect them. If you are looking for traditional styles – I’m not your author. What other people say ranges from a female Edgar Rice Burroughs to an astute student of Hemingway.

How did you come up with Defiance: Dragonics and Runics?
I fell asleep listening to the History Channel. It was either a show about Dragons or Hitler. I honestly don’t remember. I just know that I woke up at around 4 am, grabbed a pen and my notebook and scribbled down (I found it recently): “WW2 with dragons. Don’t &$@! with the dragons. Magic.” After that, I took my love for dragons and history and wove together a story that hopefully serves as a warning to its readers and really calls into question the extent of a person’s humanity in extreme circumstances.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. It’s really easy to say in retrospect that if put into the situation the characters in the Dragonics & Runics series were put into, that you would do the right thing. But then, what exactly is the right thing? Who decides that? Where’s the line? And, if you were actually there – in the war, in the battlesky or in the cities – would you still do what you think you will? There are limits to a person’s humanity and this series really opens that conversation up to the readers.

What books have most influenced your life most?
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
The Pern Series by Anne McCaffrey
The Ancient One by T.A. Barron

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Tim O’Brien. He’s so brutally honest and his characters are so truthful and raw. He bends rules to wield a better story. I just love everything he writes. It’s pure genius.

What are you reading now?
A colleague’s book. Can’t divulge too much now!

What are you working on right now?
The second book in the series – ALLEGIANCE: Dragonics & Runics Part II, the young adult paranormal fiction episodic that I host on my website, and then the third episode on the webseries I co-created and write on – Things Left Unsaid.

Do you see writing as a career? Or just a hobby? How else do you fill your time?
Career. It’s my calling. Right now, it’s not my day job but it will be. I fill my time with my day job and my family. That, and I sleep every third day or so.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging about writing? Writer’s block, etc.
I don’t look at things as challenges but as puzzles. I don’t subscribe to writer’s block so, no go there. What I do find challenging is being an indie author in a not-so-friendly-for-indies book world.  That’s changing, but it’s still got a ways to go and that can wear down on the indie author.

Do you plot out your books or just shoot from the hip?
Both. I work with a bare bones skeleton and then – if it’s an intricate weaving of plot and subplots (like Dragonics & Runics) then I note card it. Otherwise, I just write. 

Defiance: Dragonics & Runics Part I
Defiance: Dragonics & Runics Part I

Who designed your cover?
The amazingly talented Anabel Martinez. She’s well known for her video game art and has amazing fans. I saw some work she did of a character for a video game that was kinda slated as a propaganda poster and I was all – HER! I MUST HAVE HER! I think I started my email with that too…

Who did your trailer?
I did but with some help. All the trailers feature voice-overs directed by Scott H. and there are three different actors that lent their voices to it: Michael Monks, Kiriza Bajos, and Erin Bennett. They’re amazing. The music I get royalty-free from Kevin MacLeod. He’s wicked talented!

What was the hardest part of writing Defiance: Dragonics and Runics?
Figuring out where to “divide” the books (parts) properly so you have a microcosm plot that furthers the series plot and doesn’t cut short the subplots. It’s like knowing where to step on a rickety bridge.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Network and work on your craft. Write, write, write. Edit. Edit. Edit. Don’t give up. Don’t stop. And, don’t take failure as an option. Learn from your criticisms and mistakes and get better. Oh, and get used to not sleeping so you can finish that story burning in your mind’s eye.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
You think you know what will happen and to whom, but you don’t. I didn’t even know on some of them. They surprised me, now I will surprise you.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
My heritage is that of a German Jew on one side. You’re probably going “eesh” right now and you’re right to do so. We don’t have a family tree anymore. They’re just… gone. So, really delving into the Third Reich and Hitler and his powerful oratory skills was a challenge. I can’t make the Chancellor seem flat and I wanted him to be as realistically twisted as Hitler was. But, I hate him.  Hitler’s one of the only people I will ever hate. He earned it, if you ask me.The other challenge was keeping everything sorted. Thank god for my OCD organizational skills and making a production bible. It’s often referred to as “My Precious.”

Thoughts on a zombie dragon?
Bad. Ass. Can it have an acid fire breath? Oh! And maybe… his wings are mainly bone with just these rotting sloughs of skin and wing membrane. He can eat goat brains!

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A. Wrighton ESSENTIAL LINKS:
Defiance: Dragonics & Runics Part I (print): http://bit.ly/dr1amazon
Defiance: Dragonics & Runics Part I (ebook): http://bit.ly/dr1ebook  (Coming to Smashwords & others June 2013!)
Personal website: www.awrighton.com
Dragonics & Runics Series website: www.defythecouncil.com
Twitter: @a_wrighton