Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My Secret Life as a Video Game Composer

The Global Game Jam happens twice yearly, most recently being September 20th through the 22nd. It's an event where a couple hundred super geeks such as myself come together and break into teams to see who can create the best video game from scratch in 48 hours. This last one was my third Game Jam. They get better each year.

I'm going to try to put into words what excited me so much about this experience. There were twelve official members of our team. This is huge compared to other teams... And if you have ever tried working on a team of people, especially those who don't know each other that well, you know how much of a disaster this could have been. But it wasn't. At all. We were an oiled machine, working day and night, pausing only to run down the hall for food or to relieve our bladders, laying down on the floor in front of our computers only when our eyes refused to stay open a moment longer, then get up and get back to work.

Our team pretty much filled an entire computer lab. On the back row were the programmers - Ben, Mat, Josh, Stephen. Next row were the artists and animators - Ian, Leonard and Jessica. Holding the next row all to himself, a bit of a jack of all trades, was Jeremy. On the front were Bill, who was in charge of sounds, and me, producing the music. Britt, working with Jake as project managers, was the central communication between us... the motivator, idea filter and public relations.

I'm probably doing nothing to capture the essence of the experience, and I apologize. It was awesome. I personally love being at home, hate being out, especially staying out, when I could be writing at my house or kicking back in my recliner. And yet I felt absolutely at home in that computer lab. Everyone was like-minded. Everyone was friends.

I think one reason I enjoyed it so much (besides the obvious fact that I love telling stories, writing music and playing video games) was because of the constant amount of high, creative energy...

But for me, that comes at a cost. Both years I've produced music I had a similar cycle.

Friday -

I sit down once we've all agreed upon the game's theme. I lay out my musical snippets and ideas and look them over, finding the best, rejecting the rest. Then I start writing. I quickly get stuck... a stupid instrument, a riff that's just weak, an idea I just can't expand on...

Friday becomes Saturday - 

I wander to the art department to see the graphics they're producing. Something sparks inside me and I run back to my computer, laying down tracks.
Then I get stuck again. And this time I'm really stuck. So stuck that I wonder why I do it to myself. I grow quiet. Britt comes around and asks how the music's coming.
'Go ____ your face,' I say. Then I apologize. Then I wander around.
Bill says, 'Why do you do it?'
I say, 'I don't know.'
Eventually I give up for the night, settling down in a heap to catch three or four hours of slumber. I wake up feeling better. I sit down at the computer. I shift a melody over an uncharted chord progression... 
There it is. I'm through the cloud. I sit back, but not too far because I don't think people will understand why my eyes are filling with tears. I listen to the song over and over. A hundred times. I tweak and add and subtract and edit. Only then do I show it off. Only then is it ready.

We won, by the way. Well, as much as we could have. Our game was amongst the top 5 entries. We'll find out in a week and a half if we won first place or not.

I've mentioned this idea here before. How I love to compose music but I hate deadlines. I get so stressed out over them. But not like simmering stress, it's volcanic and all at once. And just as quickly, it passes, once the creative block comes down.

Will it be that same way with books? Once I'm writing, no longer just for fun and for myself but for a living, for the people to whom I owe books, will the process treat me the same way? Once there's a deadline? Can I handle that much pressure? Do I really want to find out the hard way?? 
And if not, why do I love Game Jam so much, despite the lows?

Here's a link to the song I produced for the game. This particular song was heavy on elecronica, light on actual instruments. If you don't like techno or video games, I can't guarantee you'll like it. But don't take my word for it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Next Big Thing!

My blogging friend and fellow fantasy author Brandon Ax was thoughtful enough to mention me in a post entitled The Next Big Thing. (Here's a link to his
Basically it's ten questions regarding your current project. For the sake of this post, I'll answer the questions based on my NEXT project... (Because I'm sick of talking about the edits I'm doing on my current)

Here we go! (as if I didn't talk about this book enough in April!)

1. What is the working title of your book? 
Turesia Split
(click to go to its page on my website.)

2. Where did the idea come from for the book? 
The idea came from my love for UFC and my love for Video Games. I wondered, What if the fighters had to kill their opponents before leaving the arena, and they were immediately revived (not unlike Mario)? This got me thinking about stats, strategies, residual scars, reincarnation, team death matches, human sacrifices - for the sake of pain alone not loss of life, and so on...
3. What Genre does your book fall under?
Fantasy, of course. And it'll get a bit gritty. Not so much erotic.
Whether it's YA or not, I don't know yet. I'm capable of maintaining a quick pace, with humor and quirkiness that would appeal to a younger audience, which seems to me like the logical determining factor... But as far as the specific age of my protagonists? Who cares? It's only a number. 
<tangent> I really hate that the market has built an impassable fence and we have to choose one side or the other. When I was a kid (and I mean as soon as I learned to read) I read every book that held my attention, regardless of the age, race, gender or species of the protagonists. What a stupid way of categorizing books.</tangent>
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie version?
When I started with this book, I had some clear ideas for this answer. So much so that I drew sketches of the different characters based on certain actors. But as I wrote the book, I got to know my characters better. I didn't like the faces I'd chosen for them. I didn't want my characters to be limited to an individual but (as Brandon Ax said) I wanted readers to form their own opinions. That's the magic of books, after all.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?  
A runaway priest from the west meets an escaped gladiator from the east, triggering a civil war.

6. Will your book be self published or represented by an agency? 
I just want to write. That said, I'd really prefer to have someone (a publishing house) do a lot of the other stuff for me (even if it involves them taking a chunk of the profit). 
But if I write a book worthy of being read, and am unsuccessful at finding representation, I'll self publish.

7. How long did it take you to finish the first draft of your manuscript?
The first draft is only about 80 percent finished. And that took four months.

8. What other books would you compare this book with in your genre?
Tough question. I spend a lot of time reading outside my genre. Despite how odd this might sound, I aspire to write Joe Abercrombie for younger audiences. 

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
This seems a lot like #2... But I'll try to answer differently. 
I looked at the world map of Silexare and found an area I'd already developed some history for. The gladiator / UFC / east versus west idea was perfect for this continent. And it was isolated enough that I didn't have a ton of additional world building to do. (Which is good because I'm a hella procrastinator)

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
I aim for edgy YA fantasy, with dialogue that snaps, locations that are fresh - think tropical volcanic island, and monsters that would make Pikachu crap his little electric britches. I'd also like to shrug off traditional fantasy gender roles. In this case, the runaway priest is the boy, the escaped gladiator the girl.

Thanks again, Brandon Ax, for giving me the opportunity to put this into words! I didn't have a one sentence pitch before this. At least now I have the workings of one! 

Now to nominate some other bloggers for the hotseat...

I'm going to call out Mark Noce first, from Mark Noce Stories. He has intelligent things to say, he's a new father, and he recently went to San Fransisco. I can relate to at least two of those!

I want to call out Carrie Butler over at So, You're a Writer... because she's clever and helpful. Also, I read an excerpt of her NA Paranormal Romance - Strength on Amazon and was impressed by her writing.

Finally, I'm choosing Faith E. Hough because (you guessed it) she's smart, too. She reads a lot and has an optimistic personality... well, bloggersonality.

Ok, go!

(By the way, if you want a formal invitation to partake in The Next Big Thing blog yourself, let me know in the comments and I'll add your name to those above. I can do that. I know my password.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

IWSG September 4th

IWSG, brainchild of mister Alex J. Cavanaugh (click his name for deets), occurs once a month and exists for writers like me to voice their fears and concerns...
I've taken the opportunity to whine instead.

My book is boring. I've read it a million times. And it's too simple. There are less than 20 relevant characters and they're all stupid. Thank God, I'm almost done messing with this book forever.

But my next book needs tons of characters. I have to invent an entire religion and a magic system and a government. I have to culminate a logically founded hatred between two nations that eventually breaks into outright war. I have to invent at least three unique races of creatures (not including random questing beasts) that could function in the world...or at least in Silexare. I have to write three romantic relationships - two of which being love triangles.

I've jumped off the deep end with this book. I'm bound to fail. It's going to be a huge train wreck. It'll never sell and I'll be stuck working here forever.

But at least I came up with a post for IWSG  :)