For anyone who's visited me in January, gracias. Hopefully this collection of posts will make a few readers aware of my interactive romance series coming summer 2011. Creating over a dozen posts was a challenge. That was my goal and mark of commitment: I declare Take Control a "real" blog. Now I have, umm, 5 months left. I'll endeavor to find things both entertaining, educational, and writerly.

As anyone who caught my tweets noted, all posters in January are registered in a contest to win a title of choice from my backlist. Tomorrow comes the winner, so check out some of the older posts and chat me up! Here's to making dreams come true.


Introducing Charlotte

Charlotte is sweet, solid, and bored. After nursing her Gram through the end of her life for the last ten years, she's eager to explore. Gram  had  many stories of adventure, magic, and love but one thing she'd never done was take a cruise, so Charlotte embarks on one for both of them. Chubby, red-haired and silver-eyed, Charlotte has never felt beautiful, but while she idly wishes she were more social, she knows who she is and accepts that. She's a very steady person, practical and hopeful. Her personal goal for this cruise is to lose her virginity, and she doesn't need any roses and candlelight. She wants some earthy skin time, preferably a variety.

Charlotte is in for a surprise. There was a reason Gram's Gram made her swear to stay away from water. A mystical, supernatural reason. Charlotte has fairy blood, and her power is about to be unleashed upon the unsuspecting Annual Cruise of Fantastical Singles. Look out, bachelors!



When I sat down to write Becca, which I then referred to as "the multiplied scifi," I took a few CYOAs out of the library. On a drive to dreary Erie, my guy and I worked our way through one of them, Completist. It was about mutant ants in the Everglades. It was really, really bad. Another one set in China was full of History as Exposition, which pained me but is part of the reason I have a vast scattering of historical trivia.

As a children's librarian, I was thrilled to discover the series has a new younger edition, confusingly named Dragonlark in some publishing databases. I read all of those, and they were better, but the readability wasn't low enough for the audience and the choices could be weirdly disconnected from the storyline. I mean, if I wanted to walk down to the beach, why is my next set of choices to go play with the kids or go do my homework? Stuff like that. I wanted to go in the water!

As I mapped out the pattern of choices to see how the author branched the story and how many layers of choices she wanted, I became aware of just how layered each story stem would have to be, and how little I could give away at first. In the end, because my stories are far more character based than any of the CYOAs, I feel my books are contributing something new to the genre, and not just riffing on the gimmick. I like the gimmick, don't get me wrong. But I don't want it to excuse a sound, satisfying story.


Introducing Lauren

Lauren is a young corporate New Yorker. She's trendy, smart, successful, gorgeous.
With her bobbed black hair, blue eyes, and petite frame, she could slay her way through every happy hour, but instead she's cautious and a little sad. Back in college, she had a best friend and a nice guy fiancee, but when she came home from class early one day, she caught them together. She ran, cutting them from her life. Seven years later she's not really over it, but thinks she might be ready to face them. So this city girl accepts her friend's overture of healing and heads to her exclusive family ranch in Montana. Lauren is full of nerves but her confidence and social poise serve her well.


Get Your (Romantic) Game On

There's some pretty nifty games available right now for people who are into this genre. One I have direct experience with is the slickest interactive choice-based video game to come along, Dragon Age. It's a good third person RPG old skool style for PC. It is the philosophical progeny of Baldur's Gate, which wanted to be a choice-based RPG, but only followed the "fake out choice" style where you were punished for every negative option. Lame (and also buggy). But anyway, Dragon Age is nifty because it takes character into account. There are storylines that contain both sex (HI-larious), romance, and both.

If video games are your thing, there's another one, indie-developed and romance author written. The marvelous Marjorie Liu developed one of her series into a choice-driven game, Tiger Eye. I haven't played it. I'd love to hear from anyone who has.

I didn't know about Harlequin's foray into it was blogged at Dear Author.

There's this app, also playable online, which starts with a quad choice and then lets you personalize your character. Ooooo, neat twist! Plot Bunny! When I played it, I found the deluge of choices numbing and the consequences of my choices too minor/opaque. It offers the option to write one for them to sell.

I think as a researcher into this genre, I'm going to need to play Tiger Eye! If I do, I'll share my experiences. Or maybe I'll find a guest blogger to do it!


So Who Are My Associates?

I'm proud of myself for trying something "out there" but I acknowledge that I'm not such a Special Snowflake to be a pioneer.
So I went looking for others who are writing interactive romance right now. I found this YA series Choose Your Boyfriend. I prefer my romance to have a little more action in it. Of either variety, if you know what I mean. And what's up with the "20+ endings" statement. Count them already! Inquiring minds want to know. 21? 29?

On the other end of the spectrum is this pure erotica title by M. Wilson. Use Amazon's delightful Look Inside feature. It's sadly hysterical. You see, The first "chapter" or story introduction is only one page long. (And written in traditional second person!) So when I'm presented with my first choice, I cannot read on because I'm directed to page 113/118. *giggling* Woops! There's a small issue with chronological excerpts.

Color me bowled over to find a NY backed CYORomance. It's co-authored with a m/f pair and sets up a gender choice at the beginning. Whatever You Want looks really fun. Written in 2nd person and with 39 endings! I really adore their use of the (commented) end, and how there is only one (Perfect) End. That's another future blog topic of mine. I can't wait to read this!

This one looks more of a lowbrow romcom, and I can kind of tell from the blurb that it's written by a guy. My romance expectations lower, but it still looks nifty. It's also been turned into an app. *jealous*
Beer, Women, and Bad Decisions - An Interactive Book for Adults (Choose The Ending Books)

Christina Crooks, an author for Aphrodisia, had a short story collection of CYORomance for sale. I've found mentions of it around, but its Amazon page is 404. Color me disappointed, because it looks like she explored several genres, like I do. Update: She's posted it for free on her extras page.
Romance Stories - An Interactive Fiction Collection

And I suppose I should mention the self-publishing god Konrath's foray. He took a minor character from one of his series and put him into an "experimental" book. Even the fans admit there's not much story, but apparently there's sex and a lot of silliness. 

Feb update: Here's a sexual adventure with a multi-cultural flair.
I'm really glad these other people are out there, because it makes my idea seem concurrently a valid option and something new. Here's to niche writing.  
Update: I found even more, so hop to this post or this post.


The Pure Read

When I sat down with a CYOA, I had an extra intense feeling of anticipation. That's because I knew that once I was through that first pure read, I'd be taken to my True End. I was always ruthless with my pure read. I would pause and gaze into the distance, considering each choice from all angles, insisting that I be honest. OH the frustration of not being given a choice I'd actually choose! Encountering the lesser of two evils made me very bitter about a pure read.

Yeah, I'm pretty much admitting to the world the level of my geekiness. There was something magical about being faced with completely fresh scenarios and discovering where they led. If I managed to kill myself on a pure read, I became very superstitious about the day, like the luck from the book would spill over. I'd be jubilant if I scored a positive ending, like it somehow validated my intelligence/humanity/reading prowess.

When I started sharing Becca with friends who don't read, I would talk them through the story. I kept track of the endings they ended up on in a Pure Read. I would look at them with a gypsy-skepticism, like I could suss out hidden depths to their personality by which choices they landed on. When a friend pointed out that by designing a Fake Fake-Out Choice, I was negating their desires to be good/evil, it left me stumped. Oh, yeah. I did have some tricks in there. Well, it's still interesting, anyway!



I found this site when I was researching CYOA games. It isn't quite CYOA, but it sure is interactive fiction! Their google title is "Never Ending Story" but the site is labeled Infinite Story. There is a subforum for romance. Here you can read a whole bunch of CYOA stories, some erotic, some horrible, some fun.

I tried to create my own but the programming is not wysiwyg. I figured it out, but had no interest in plowing on because, well, I'm happy with MS Word and hope to get money for my stories. Each chapter is called a "room" and you can create up to 5 choices. You can also upload, but not link, your own images. I enjoyed exploring here. I think it's a really neat community with terrific creative potential.


Introducing Becca

Becca is the heroine of my first interactive romance. She's a privileged grad student of the future. Confident, from a decent family she chafes against, she yearns for adventure and a career in space. She's leaving her planet where she's been highly successful with both guys and school and entering her first internship on an interstellar trader, which unbeknownst by her is run by the mob. Becca has decided not to share with her Captain that her brother is a Junior Admiral in the Navy. She has a bad case of sibling jealousy and is pretty sure she can handle a three month starcourse on her own. Young, hot to trot, and eager to make a name for herself, we meet Becca just as she boards The Cider Pot for the first time, brimming with determination.


The Choice Mistress

When I was halfway through my first interactive romance, Becca, I realized I was having wayyyy too much fun. First of all, I ended up PLOTTING (this deserves capital letters in my mind). What this sea change meant is that I entered a far different journey than the organic technique I use to write my novels. This wasn't really about discovering a hero/ine's happy ending. This was about creating a character and watching how the universe toyed with them through their slightest decisions. This was about the adventure of life.

If anyone has ever been involved in Dungeons and Dragons (another choice-happy past time) you know the term "DM" short for "Dungeon Master" which is synonymous in the geek world with "Boss." As a plotter, I found writing became effortless and I became much more analytical. I was a DM!

I began to analyze the types of choices I wanted to offer. I have categories:
*The minor choice: Turn left or turn right? I call this the butterfly effect. You might think it's an incidental action, but it will have Consequences.
*The major choice: duh. Out the airlock or into the escape pod? It's gonna be important.
*The horrible choice: The sword or the poison?
*The fake fake-out: This was one of my pet peeves of the CYOAs. When the author sets up a "you better not do that" choice and then punishes you for it, it became a fake choice. Stepping on the alligator led to being eaten. DUH. No fake choices is my mantra. There are some choices that are dicey that punish my heroine, but there are some that reward her. Thus, some readers might be taken aback by a seemingly naughty choice that turns out nice. I don't consider this bait-and-switch. I consider it realistic!
*The dead end: Once I got my first two branching stories under my belt, I left behind the need to create a symmetrical story. Some choices in Charlotte's book lead to an end where other choices lead to more choices.
*The sex choice: Initial inquiries to readers resulted in them saying they'd be weirded out at directing sex. But I just had to go there. I'm an erotic author! It was fun making neck or tummy? lead to something meaningful, so this was a subset of The Minor Choice.
*The triple threat: Eventually I'll get to a quad choice. It's just a matter of time. By designing an initial choice as a triple threat, I really opened the story up.
*The cheaterpants loop: If you really believe in Fate, I guess this type of path could have merit. As in, several choices in several story stems all lead you to point A. But I call it the "lazy author" setup. I have not used it and do not intend to.

The choices also had a role in story length. For all my books, I added up each chapter for every ending and compared the lengths. Even in the symmetrical stories, there were some that ended up 5k shorter than others. If I got emo with some storylines, they went longer. Some endings I let go abruptly, some I wrote more of a coda. In a book of about 50k, my goal was to have no single path be too short because if that ended up as someone's Pure Read, I wanted them to feel satisfied.



Here I am writing. I've always been writing. I have my first travel book (Age 5, bound with yarn), my first diary (Age 7), my first play (Age 8, a scifi and yes my friends performed it), my first romance (age 10, a castle-hopping paranormal), and my first poem (Age 12, about a unicorn. It's horrible). Eventually I got around to submitting an erotic romance (Age 37, a fantasy), and I think yes, this writing thing is here to stay. I am so into this!

So there's this new romance epublisher on the market, and lo, on their list of genres they have listed interactive fiction. I have already learned romance writer's lesson #22: Do Not Write For Submission Calls Because It Leaves You With Weird Homeless Books When They Are Rejected While Delaying Books You Should Be Writing. I knew this lesson, but lo, I flailed into the write-on-demand waters anyway, and last year I wrote my first interactive romance.

It was rejected. Twice. So I wrote another one. It was rejected, too. So I'm writing a third. Am I insane? No. I'm just a romance writer, an unsquashable romantic to my bones. The reasons it was rejected were interesting to me. And, self-servingly, I reject the reasons my books were rejected!

1. Unhappy endings. Yes, the world of romance typically follows the Happy Ending rule. But this is a CYOA! How can you have an all-happy interactive story? It's, like, lame. Where's the risk in it? My compromise is I will put a warning on my blurbs that readers are in for possible death-of-a-main-character. But it will be their fault, not mine. (evil laugh!)

2. The storyline deviated from the first chapter. The editor who generously wrote me a fairly long response wanted the first premise I introduced to be present in all endings. I'll ask responders: do you want to read the same relationship being hashed out 12 times?

3. The main character wasn't consistent. THIS is something I'm struggling with. Of course I want my heroine to be motivated, with a clear personality that generates believable reactions. I feel that when I offer branching choices, I do motivate each one of them. The heroine MUST have a plausible reason for considering each option. But if my choices are all sweetness and light, the adventure is less robust. And who hasn't been tempted by the dark side in our life? It's fun to play the evil character in video games.

What this leads to in a potential romance, however, is a bad girl who sometimes acts unheroically while at other times is quite noble. I'd never have one of my fantasy novel heroines be both a smuggler and an idealistic academic. I'd never have her both instigate a food fight and run for help. But if I limit the choices to run left for help and run right for help, I don't get to play with as many possibilities. This is something I'm concerned about, that I'm sacrificing the character for the adventure. Three books in, I'm sticking with my guns. As long as I motivate each of the choices, I'm letting the reader decide whether to be bad or good.


Not Your Old Choose Your Own Adventure

RA Montgomery looms large in my mind. When I discovered the Choose Your Own Adventure books as a middle schooler, they blew my mind. I couldn't read them without a tiny spiral bound notebook at my side (because they were library books and I was a darling child who respected them). I would track with delicious precision which paths I'd chosen so I could read them all. I guess there's earlier examples, which you can read about in this fascinating history. Credit should also go to Edward Packard, who seems to have joined RAM at the same time and who we have to thank for the bizarre second person motif.

When I sat down to write my own interactive fiction story, I toyed with the idea of writing in second person, but couldn't do it. First of all, it was, like, hard. Second of all, it was really weird to write sexy scenes. It felt like I was directing an illicit phone hotline or something. I couldn't get into it as an author, and thus it was likely I wouldn't get into it as a reader. I'd love to hear from romance authors who have chosen to write in second person!

Abandoning that tradition, I have to say keeping track of the paths was my biggest challenge. I had to teach myself about bookmarks and hyperlinks, which I'll blog about soon. I had to create an index, so that I wouldn't get lost in my own manuscript. But other than that, writing an interactive story has been incredibly fascinating.

It's like a puzzle. Which is strange because I'm not a puzzle-head. I don't particularly care to be challenged by those horrible twisty iron ring games or hopping pegs. But since I also rejected another aspect of RAM's writing--the cheaterpants repeated choice, where two different storylines end up dumping you back to the same moment-- I was working in a more linear world. Then it became a butterfly effect experience, and it is a blast!


What is interactive fiction?

Interactive fiction is what they're now calling stories with embedded links and/or choices. It has also been called maze fiction, tree literature, branching path books, or gamebooks.  Most famously, it is the type of story exemplified by the Choose Your Own Adventure series. It is also what publishers call tactile board books for babies where they can move the stuffed animal to bed or stick their fingers through the holes. While fun, that's not the kind of book I'm exploring. (Never say never. I can think of some fun uses for cutouts in sexy interactive fiction, but the eformat currently limits me.) There are still a lot of interactive books being directed at kids, but I'm more interested in the adult aspect of choice and giving readers the power to explore, reread, and die. It's my belief that ebooks are perfect for this genre.

This little blog details my journey into writing an adult (really adult) interactive story. The reader will have choices, danger, adventure, passion, and consequences. Hope there's other weirdos like me out there.