Ten years ago I decided that I’d spent too much time waiting for permission from the book publishing gatekeepers. I’d written five novels prior to that (the thin literary kind with lots of character development but no discernible plot or action). My first novel was written when I was 21 years old, mostly in a small Portland cafe that’s now a condo tower. I wrote a novel every year in my early 20s, most of them poor imitations of whatever I enjoyed reading at the time, but I was learning and experimenting.
Trying to get each book published required mailing query letters and SASE (self-address stamped envelopes) to agents and publishers. It was a very time consuming effort, usually futile. Lots of envelope licking–I eventually used a sponge. I had to narrow down who to send letters to by combing through a massive Writer’s Market index, which came out every year and was too expensive for me to buy so I’d just go to a bookstore and flip through it, then write down the contact information for the ones I thought might be interested.
I saved plenty of rejection letters. I also have typewritten letters on stationary from editors at Alfred A. Knopf who were interested in reading the full manuscript of a few of my novels. Those words used to get me elated. It was either no reply, rejection, sample chapters, or full manuscript. The look of the stationary with the Borzoi dog still makes me feel like it’s an artifact from a more interesting time (it says Cables and Telex on their stationary, no email or website).
I decided to skip writing query letters for my sixth book and just publish it on my own. This makes total sense now but even ten years ago there were the last vestiges of something called “vanity publishing.” It was where you would pay to print copies of your book and then it was up to you to sell them. How in the world is that vain? Print-on-demand (POD) took some of that risk away. You didn’t need to pay in advance to print 1,000 copies, you just needed to charge almost double for what people usually paid for paperback books and hope people outside your family bought them.
But there was still a perception that if you’d written a book and it wasn’t traditionally published then it must be absolute garbage. People love indie films and indie bands, but indie authors? Total hacks.
One anonymous writer called POD Girl decided to prove there were good POD books out there. She started a blog called POD-dy Mouth, described as “Wading through the sea of print-on-demand titles, one overpriced paperback at a time–and giving you the buried treasure.” Her first post spoke to my heart and I sent her an email pleading with her to review Isn’t That Bigamy. She agreed but said it would be a few months before it showed up. Then, a week later, she told me it would be the next one up. (Here’s the POD-dy Mouth review of Isn’t That Bigamy.)
It was a great review and validated my decision to go it alone. Then a few months later, Isn’t That Bigamy? won the first Needle Award for Commercial Fiction. In an amazing reversal, I had an inbox full of literary agents emailing me, requesting the full manuscript. I signed with one (a dream come true after 10 years) and she sent it out to publishers.
All the publishers passed on it. The worst part was that I didn’t even get rejections on stationary. Just forwarded emails with encouraging comments from my agent. People have blind spots, weaknesses they can’t see, and mine was whatever I was doing wrong in my writing that made Bigamy unacceptable in traditional publishing.
All of the elation I felt getting reviewed and winning the Needle Award was tarnished for a while. But looking back now, it gave me the resolve to start doing whatever I wanted to do. And so I’ve spent the past ten years making whatever I want, answering to no one. This has led to two feature films, an iOS app, interactive narrative games, webseries, short stories, and the slowly growing behemoth I call Phrenic. I sometimes wonder if Bigamy had been published, would I have taken those risks or just settled in to write the tenth cookie cutter version of the same crime-comedy novel.
I’m currently at work on a new novel (spoiler: it takes place in Phrenic World). But I think the 10 year milestone for Isn’t That Bigamy requires a re-issue of some kind. I keep hearing about Wattpad, which people are calling the YouTube of books. I like that description. Starting today, I’m releasing Isn’t That Bigamy? on Wattpad, a chapter a week for the next 23 weeks. It’s free, so hopefully it will find some new readers. It’s been 10 years since I’ve read Bigamy, so one of those readers will be me.
And if POD-dy Mouth is reading this, thanks Girl. You literally changed my life.
Read Isn’t That Bigamy? on Wattpad
If you’ve ever wanted to see me get tasered/stabbed, today is your lucky day! Today I launched a Kickstarter with the help of some really talented people. I’ve hesitated to do crowdfunding for anything related to Phrenic because nothing we’ve done so far has required it and it takes considerable effort to get a good campaign running.
This comic idea all started when Phrenic actor Steve Mattsson was interviewed on Foes of Reality and talked about his former writing duties for DC, Marvel, and cult favorite Boris the Bear. We discussed doing a comic with his friend, Paul Gulacy, a legendary artist for DC/Marvel who is also credited for drawing one of the very first graphic novels.
I loved the idea but didn’t feel like we had a compelling enough idea to crowdfund. Just adding a comic to Phrenic would simply feel like ticking off the “Comic book” box in a transmedia checklist. We came at it from new angles, like having it be the prequel to a clone assassin video we filmed–which was a step in the right direction but still not enough.
Finally, we came up with the idea that would allow readers to interact directly with the clone assassin based on clues from the comic. The way it works is a reader might see a text message drawn into the comic, which the reader could send a message to in order to begin a conversation with Anya, bringing them deeper into the story. Other interactions may unlock comic panels only available to readers who interact.
Judging from the deeply engaged people playing our Zoe Trapp alternate reality game, I felt like this type of interactive experience would be worth the effort. Even if we fail, it will have been worth the effort.
But I’d really like to NOT fail. I think this is a very cool idea and we’ll be beating much larger players to the game with it. I set up a live example of how the alternate reality game can be played. Send “I need your services” to the Clone Assassin’s by text message to 971-717-2850 or to her Twitter handle @ikillclones.
Be part of comic book history and help us make this happen!
(Update: we did not make this happen, but you haven’t heard the last from the clone assassin!)
I’m always looking for ways to get people interacting more deeply in the story of Phrenic. Sometimes that means allowing people to create their own content (like in Go Clone Yourself) or letting them make decisions about where the story goes in a Tweet Your Own Adventure game.
The latest way to get wrapped up in Phrenic is the Life Identical Genetic Enhancement Screening test. It’s an alternate reality game that begins with an interactive video. Zoe, a Genetic Enhancement Advisor, asks you questions in a “live web conference.” You can answer yes to all of her questions but it’s more fun if you express a little reservation or doubt. (There is also a standard sign-up form if you want to skip the interactive video.)
Fill out a quick contact form and Zoe will immediately send you a brochure about genetic enhancements, followed by secret emails about what’s really going on with the genetic enhancement testing. She might ask you questions or send videos, photos, or artifacts like sketches of cloning storage pods.
This interactive story is designed to have more episodes and artifacts added over time. Zoe’s emails and tweets represent a new chapter in the story and also fills in another piece of “Play” in Phrenic’s tagline “a thriller you watch, read, and play.” Zoe’s storyline ties into other storylines so when Phrenic’s Clone Assassin comic project comes out in a few weeks, you’ll see the same events from the perspective of Zoe, a customer service agent spying on Life Identical.
And if you want updates Phrenic, sign up here. The Clone Assassin stuff is going to be awesome.
I turned an interactive story I wrote for Phrenic into a Tweet Your Own Adventure game. Not only is it a homage to the choose your own adventure type books everyone read as a kid, but it’s also a tribute to the text adventure games I used to try writing in BASIC on a TRS-80 (I was terrible at it). I decided to make a Choose Your Own Adventure game that was played entirely on Twitter.
It’s a new kind of text adventure game played entirely with Twitter interactions using @ replies. You don’t even need to follow anyone. It’s all done by sending @ replies to a character from Phrenic on Twitter, known as @PhrenicDoll. Think of it as a Choose Your Own Adventure story where you make decisions by replying on Twitter.
All you need to do is tweet the word START to @PhrenicDoll
Then @PhrenicDoll will reply to you. At the end of the tweet are two options in ALL CAPS. Reply with one of those options (your answer doesn’t need to be in all caps). You’ll get a new tweet until you reach one of the endings (or if stop replying).
Let’s say you made a bad choice in the story and want to “rewind” to a previous decision. Just type the ALL CAPS option and you’ll resume the story from that point.
You can also tweet START to @PhrenicDoll at any time to re-start the whole game.
Let’s say you start playing on the bus then get to work and can’t play anymore. Simply stop replying to @PhrenicDoll (she won’t mind). On your bus ride home, you can reply to her latest tweet to resume the story.
To stop playing, simply stop replying to @PhrenicDoll. She only talks to you when you talk to her.
Your interactions with @PhrenicDoll won’t be seen by people who follow you unless they are also following @PhrenicDoll, or if they go directly to your profile page.
Yes, once @PhrenicDoll has replied to your tweet, you can delete your tweet. But if you do that, you’ll lose the conversation thread in Twitter that allows the whole interaction to read like a story.
Special thanks to volunteer beta testers: @EGGmockradio (first!) @Superglrl @phjpdx @QMpolly @audreywalker !!
Phrenic is having a one year anniversary party on Wednesday (post & pictures to come). Here are some screenshots from scenes I’ve been editing. Two take place in a creepy asylum environment. The other is a fun clone assassin episode. A new version of the app (with a new icon and design) is coming soon too. The website looks newer too! PhrenicWorld.com
I’m in the process of notecarding out another feature. It’s probably the most fun part of making a movie because there is no technology to troubleshoot, people to schedule, locations to coordinate with, or money to try and not spend. It’s just writing and imagining new scenes and what could happen in those scenes. There’s not even dialogue yet. Improvisation happens sometimes on the set, but this notecard process is pure improvisation. What if this happened? What if this character did this? Sure, there is a little bit of practicality, like realizing that where a scene is set or how many people are in it can affect all the scheduling, budget, location scouting, etc. Working within limitations makes me more creative.
I wasn’t interested in doing another feature immediately after Did You Kiss Anyone? The idea of making a new standalone feature seemed almost tiresome at the time. If I was going to make another feature, I wanted to be excited about it. So instead I worked on what excited me: creating Phrenic. People seem to like it and I’ve been able to do some cool things because of it, like Grimmfest, speak at UO, the Film Trooper podcast, and the Foes of Reality interview. The app allows me to send push notifications to people who opt in, which amounts to sending a message directly to the screens to of the number of people you’d find in in a packed theater. The flexibility of the storytelling framework lets me experiment with new platforms, like Plotagon or Theatrics, as well as create new characters or storylines whenever I want.
But I missed making a feature and all the agony and ecstasy it involves. I toyed with going back to an old script and building a transmedia framework around it, but then I realized I’ve already got a transmedia framework with fans in place. After a few days of staring blankly lost in thought, I knew how I could make a feature that tied into the world of Phrenic and included some of the characters. I started writing out notecards, one per scene.
So far, I think it’s kind of awesome.