Category Archives: writing

In Defense of Fanfic

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Whenever I see an author up in arms about how bad and horrible fanfic is, I can’t help but to scratch my head and ask, “But what is so wrong about it?”

Sure, the appearance and popularity of fanfic-turned-original-novel is meant to take some of the blame. Would 50 Shades of Grey be so popular if it hadn’t started out as Twilight fanfic first? Would EL James have gotten a huge following regardless? What about writers like Alice Clayton, Jamie McGuire, etc? Truth is, no one knows. But it opened the discussion of authors using their standing in fandom to garner a following, and whether was it right for them to pull-and-publish their fics with different characters.

(I’m using Clayton, James, and McGuire as examples, but seriously, a list of published Twilight fanfics is not hard to find. It’s really not.)

Is it wrong? Unless someone’s lifting complete passages off your book, then no, not really, at least from a legal standpoint. Whether it’s morally wrong or not, jury’s still out on that one. But ask yourself: if you had a readership of millions, and got offered a book contract if you changed the names and setting, would you do it?

Personally, I don’t think I would. I think my fic is meant to stay in the confines of what inspired it, and it’s meant to be free. I may have created some original concepts in fic that I’ve then ported into original works, but those were original concepts. They were mine, and as such, I can use them as I see fit. At the time, I put them in fic to experiment, and those that worked, I decided to dedicate books to. So, in a way, fanfic helped me train. And if you ask writers, some of them will tell you the exact same thing.

A lot of the criticism for fanfic appeared during the 50SoG debacle. Before, some authors were vocal about their distaste for fic (such as Anne Rice and Robin Hobb) to the point sites like fanfiction.net forbade users from posting fic based off those writers’ comments. But the more 50SoG earned, the more comments I saw deriding fanfic, and the people who *gasp* like to write it in their free time.

Back in 2003, when Anne Rice told people not to write fanfic based on her work, do you think people stopped? You bet they didn’t. Some actually stopped buying her books, because they were mad. So, remember that every time you oppose fanfic, you may actually be alienating some of your own fans.

It’s not because they want to steal the characters. It’s not because they’re thinking about “oh, I’ll write this fic, become popular, then pull it, change names and get a million bucks!”

It’s because people love the work so much they feel inspired to write. They love the world, the characters so much, their heads won’t stop thinking about it. They will sit down and put said characters in situations the author didn’t. They devote time, put themselves out there in the fandom world, and hope others will like their spin on things.

And that is one of the highest compliments a writer can get.

You cannot keep people from writing whatever the hell they want. And if they’re choosing to write about your characters, for chocolate’s sake, let them.

“But if they become popular then they can make millions off a work that’s based on my work!”

Well, true. But so what?

If they make millions off a work based on yours, I’m sure it’s because you already have big recognition. All the “big” pulled-to-publish fanfics came from Twilight, and what did Twilight have already? That’s right, a huge following. Trust me, no fanfic of a small fandom is going to garner thousands of followers, much less a million-dollar-publishing contract. Not to mention EL James, Alice Clayton, and all the Twi-fic authors didn’t really steal readers from Stephenie Meyer. Meyer’s fans will still buy Meyer’s work. Meyer never really lost any readership from having people writing fanfic of her work.

And neither will you. Neither will anyone, really.

“But they should be spending time on their characters, not mine! They should be creating their world!”

People spend time doing whatever the fuck they want. If they want to write about your characters, they will do it. And the truth is, sometimes, people just want to write in a world’s that’s already set, with characters they already know. Believe it or not, it teaches them something. It teaches how to stay in character, how to use a world and follow its rules. Hell, even if it’s AU (Another Universe), it’s still a great training exercise, because you keep the characters but build a new world for them.

“People should be reading real books instead of fanfic!”

People should read whatever the hell they want. If it’s fanfic, then they are going to read fanfic. In fact, just last week, as I was playing Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice, I found myself craving serious Phoenix/Maya fanfic. So, I went and read some. And it was glorious.

Just like when I’m playing a Bioware game (it happens with Bioware games 99% of the time), and my future game husband is being overdramatic about lyrium addiction, you bet your ass I’m going to spend however long I want writing about it. Because it’s fun. It’s liberating. And sometimes, it helps connect to like-minded people. Fanfic led me to meet amazing people who I’ve stayed friends with for over ten years.

“But knowing how to write fanfic doesn’t mean you’re ready to write books!”

Sure, there are many things you do in fanfic that you don’t do in books, because fanfic has no purpose other than what you want it. Ultimately, though, more than it harms, fanfic helps. I know it helped me.

Fanfic helped me realize I did want to become a writer. Fanfic helped me improve my English, my prose, my skills. Sticking to a fanfic for years even though people rarely left comments in it taught me discipline, and it taught me how to write just because I love writing.

And if you, as an author, are inspiring people to write, take it as a compliment, because it is one. Obviously, don’t police the fandom, or participate actively in it (look at what happened to Marion Zimmer Bradley when she did), and don’t tell them to stop, because you never know how important it might be to them.

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Norbert and Truwitch – which I’m currently making fanart for!

 

 

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Why I Write in English

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I’ve been asked this often, both by native speakers and non-natives, which is why I decided to share my (in)finite wisdom today. I’ve spoken about it briefly on my “Getting the Call” guest post on Michelle Hauck’s blog, but here’s a longer version.

It’s not a secret I’m a huge, huge video game fan. Until I was 12, I’d only had basic English classes at school (basically, two years of learning basic verbs, numbers, how to say the English alphabet, and some questions/answers such as “What’s your name?/My name’s Diana”). Not knowing English on a fluent basis was a very big barrier to my enjoyment of video games, and when I got Ocarina of Time, the world, characters and story were all so vivid and wonderful, I found myself wanting to understand everything. So, like the stubborn little girl that I was, I armed myself with a dictionary. I noted down words I didn’t know to memorize them later.

Now, if you’ve played Ocarina of Time, you know the ending. You also know that any incurable romantic like me wanted more. Zelink is life. Zelink needs to be cannon. I also got hooked on Resident Evil, and the Chris/Jill pairing that everyone knows it’s secretly real at Capcom.

Then I discovered fanfiction.

I lurked on ff.net a lot. I eventually discovered the Resident Evil fic of this wonderful lady named Louise. We started talking. I told Louise that I’d love to write, but there was no point in doing it in Portuguese because no one would read it, and I was afraid of writing in English because mine was so broken. Louise, being the awesome kick-butt lady she is, told me to do it anyway. So, I did.

My first fics were shit. They were riddled with grammar errors (I will never forget my iconic use of “Zelda runned”). Still, people somehow liked them. Errors aside, they liked the story, and kept encouraging me. And I kept writing.

By then, I was in 7th grade and had this wonderful English teacher who nurtured my then-above-average English. I’d ask her to translated some game passages when I was stuck, and she’d do it. I remember learning verb conjugations from her, and finally, I understood that the pas of run, was ran. Similarly, my Portuguese teacher (who I hated back then, but eventually realized I was being a little stupid shit) told me to write more, because he always enjoyed my short stories. So, I did.

At 14, while on an away hockey match, my parents bought me Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. This was significant, because they hate video games, but since yours truly was a model student, and we’d just won the hockey match, they gave it to me as sort of a prize.

You have no idea what sort of doors that game opened. AoD brought on a pivotal change to my life, and it came in the shape of the KTEB. I joined their forums and met the most amazing group of people, some of whom I’m still friends with. My English still had problems, but they never mocked me for it, and they gave me support when I needed it most. I probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them. My Sanistas and Manistas are my second family, and they inspired me in many, many ways. A lot of them wrote amazing Tomb Raider fanfic, and I found myself thinking “I wish I could be as good as they are.” I would never have met them had it not been for video games, and my need to learn English.

Now, school was not easy for me. I was a straight-A student, the kind who’s also good at sports. I was bullied, terribly. People gave me hell for playing video games. People gave me hell when I said I learned most of my English from video games. I got spat at in class, hounded at recess, and this obviously caused me to withdraw.

Cue to more video games, and subsequently, better English. I started drawing just because I enjoyed it (my drawing saga in itself deserves another post, but for now, just know that everyone said I’d never be good). I wrote so much fanfic, it was embarrassing. I played Planescape: Torment and it made me realize games could have amazing, complex stories, with great writing to boot.

PS:T is a work of genius and everyone should play it. Seriously.

By then, I was 15, and my English was pretty damn good. So good my parents decided to send me to summer camp for two weeks in Cambridge as a reward for my good grades. It was expensive, but my parents, in spite of all their flaws, never held back when it came to my education.

I went to summer camp twice: first in Cambridge, then in Manchester. Met incredible people there, and my teachers back then also encouraged me to write more. And that second year in Manchester, I got to meet some of my Sanistas in person. It was amazing.

When I was in 9th grade, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out after a long wait. You think I was going to wait two more months for it to be translated in Portuguese? Hell no! It was the first book I read in English, and I got much use out of my dictionary. Same thing went when I discovered Juliet Marillier’s new book was out in English while the Portuguese release was 6 months away. Wait? Hell no!

(In case you don’t know, Juliet’s my favorite writer, and her books are made of magic. READ THEM.)

Fast-forward a couple of years, and I read an amazing Knights of the Old Republic fanfic by Trillian4210 (who I discovered now writes romance under the name Emma Scott). Its scale and scope inspired me tremendously, and after playing Neverwinter Nights II, I decided to try my hand at something epic. If I could commit to it and finish it, I’d then try to write a book.

That fanfic’s still up. It’s called Full Circle, and yes, you guessed it, it’s complete.

I was in college for Computer Engineering by the time I finished it. By then, I’d realized I wanted to write, and went to Engineering to pursue game development. But Engineering is hard, especially when you’re so engrossed in your hobbies you forget to study, so it took me a while to get that damn degree. But I did it.

Halfway through my Bachelor’s, I asked my parents to pay for my Proficiency in English exam, just to have it. They thought I should have some classes first, so I went to Cambridge School in Lisbon and took their test. I started Proficiency classes next week.

I had about six months of classes. Once, our teacher, Harry, told us to write a short story. He loved mine so much he told me to quit Engineering and go to an University in England (he recommended Sussex) and get a writing degree. Unfortunately, my parents couldn’t afford it, so couldn’t, but that was when I decided to pursue writing seriously.

After that, I decided to do NaNoWriMo. At first, I thought I’d do it in Portuguese. Then I met Leonor, fellow animal-lover and Juliet Marillier fan. Friendship immediately struck. Thanks to her, I gained more knowledge of the Portuguese publishing industry – enough to not want to give it a try.

Fantasy (which is what I write) doesn’t sell very well in Portugal unless you have a TV show or a movie. And then there’s the fact that most of the books we get are imports, and not from national authors. If you write Crime novels, then you might have a shot, or Historical Romance. I’ve heard of an established Hist Romance author who sells well, but her editors refuse to even read her fantasy manuscripts, because “Fantasy doesn’t sell.”
So I gave Portuguese a big middle-finger and went on with writing in English. After years of fanfic, it came surprisingly easy. In fact, it started coming easier than Portuguese itself. But I was still afraid my knowledge of the language wasn’t good enough.
Now, I could try the Brazilian Portuguese market, but Brazilian Portuguese, while very similar, has some differences from European Portuguese, and I’ve watched enough Brazilian Soap Operas to know those differences are significant. I could’ve researched, true, and learned how to write in Brazilian PT, but I felt I had a better shot with English.

Soon, I had a book (which was crap). I learned about the submission process in the US. I queried. I got rejections. But I also got one of the most surprising responses, and it came from Russ Galen – who reps Juliet fucking Marillier. He passed on the novel, obviously, but gave me great advice that I follow to this day. He also said he didn’t believe I wasn’t a native speaker, because my English was better than most of the submissions he read.

Ego boost gained. I stuck to English. I didn’t give up.

I wrote another book. Then another. Finally, on my fourth try, I got rep (the wonderful Natalie Lakosil at Bradford Lit).

So, here’s the gist:

I started learning English at school. I got better because of video games.
I started writing in English so people would read my fanfics.
I kept writing fanfic in English. I got better.
I met the most amazing group of people. Interacting with them made me better, both as a person, and as an English speaker.
I started writing in Portuguese, but gave up when I found out how hard it was to get an unknown author’s fantasy book read by publishers.
I wrote in English because, believe it or not, getting an agent abroad is easier than an unknown getting published here. Especially in Fantasy.
All my support was mostly from English speakers, and it was easier getting feedback if I wrote in that language.

So, there’s why. As for the how:

Ultimately, I practiced. And ultimately, I got better to the point no one knows I’m not a native speaker – unless they actually hear me speak. Accent: I have it.

Here we go again! #PitchWars #PimpMyBio

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Well, looks like it’s that time of the year again!

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I’m Diana, and I will be entering PitchWars with a YA Dark Fantasy manuscript called A Trace of Madness. It has mind witches, shadow people, weird nymps and crazy friends with questionable intentions. It’s the fourth novel child I’ve birthed and it’s, so far, my favorite! (yes, I know, I say this about my latest book every time, but it’s true!)

So here, have some facts about me:

I'm so classy!

Wait, not THOSE facts.

Let’s try again.

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1. I have the best pets ever. One’s a Persian cat called Sushi, and she’s kind enough to let me live in her house; then there’s Jubas, my super-cuddly, kissy-face, all-around sweetheart Maine Coon cross (we think). Finally, there’s Norbert (aka Norby, aka Bubba), the One Dragon to rule them all, whose favorite activities include being awesome and playing video games with me.

2. I have a degree in Computer Engineering and am halfway through my Master’s in Video Games. I also work part-time at a serious game start-up (as in, games for educational purposes, not the other kind of serious games), and it’s seriously the best job ever because I get to drink lemon beer at five in the afternoon and I can bring Norbert to the office once in a while.

3. I’m from Portugal, and although I’m seriously considering changing countries, I probably never will because our food is delicious and our weather is seriously good.

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Seriously. This was at 9 am. In March. It’s awesome.

4. I once met Ray Muzyka, Warren Spector, Jason Gregory and spent the entire time fangirling over games. I may have embarrassed myself thoroughly, especially since, in the case of Warren Spector, a bunch of us were having dinner and I was maaaybeee slightlyyyyy drunk. #noregrets

5. I also met one of my favorite authors once (Juliet Marillier) and we went shopping for dog clothes. Again, I probably also embarrassed myself there.

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6. I’ve made some games, some of which are available in my portfolio.

Me and my team, presenting Sightless to a jury. We were the runner-up!

Me and my team, presenting Sightless to a jury. We were the runner-up!

7. I also draw and paint a lot (or used to, before my hand decided to crap out on me). Mostly portraits, but, you know, I sometimes do other stuff for the sake of variety. All this because my 8th grade art teacher told me I’d never be good at drawing (so did my mom). I decided to prove them wrong and started practising. I now earn money painting things—HA!

8. I have three tattoos: two are for 1984, one of my favorite books of all time. The other is for Planescape: Torment, my favorite game of all time.

9. Most of my closest friends came from a Tomb Raider forum dedicated to Kurtis Trent. Twelve years later, we’re still friends. In fact, two of them (my real life OTP) married recently, and I got to fulfill my lifelong dream of being the ring bearer for their wedding. AT 26. THIS PROVES IT’S NEVER TOO LATE!

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My “I’ve kind of been crying” face at said wedding, with my co-ring bearer, Lara. (thanks for this caption, Anna xD)

10. In case it’s not obvious, I’m a video game junkie, something that still leaves my mother livid. Some of my favorite games (aside from Planescape) are: Ocarina of Time, Pillars of Eternity, The Longest Journey, The Witcher trilogy, Transistor, the Mass Effect trilogy, the Baldur’s Gate saga, Dragon Age: Origins, Grim Fandango, the Saints Row series, Final Fantasy VI, the Ace Attorney series, Silent Hill 2, Shadow of the Colossus, Baten Kaitos, Resident Evil (mostly from 1 to 4), Deadly Premonition, Bayonetta AND I’D BETTER STOP NOW

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Our usual video game playing scenario.

11. I love, love, LOVE a youtube series called The Most Popular Girls in School. It’s Barbie dolls cursing a lot, stop-motion animated and it’s brilliant. I quote it a lot, especially the most pertinent question of our generation: “What the #$%& is the Wifi password?”

12. Some of my favorite authors are: George Orwell, Juliet Marillier, Rae Carson, Susan Dennard, Sara J Maas, Philip K Dick, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Glenda Larke, Jacqueline Carey, Marianne de Pierres, Tolkien, JK Rowling, Anne Bishop, Garth Nix, Chris Wooding and Kristin Cashore.

13. My English is mostly self-taught. At 12, I played Ocarina of Time with a dictionary beside me, and it did wonders. At 13, I wrote dreadful fanfic with tons of errors, but the writing practice helped me improve. Then, at 15, I realized I could read books “earlier” if I read them in English and do you really think I was going to wait another two months before reading Order of the Phoenix? NO. WAY.

14. From 5 to 19, I played roller hockey at a competitive level. I quit because, college, and I still miss it after 7 years.

15. I LOVE traveling, but I’m also TERRIFIED of flying. It’s incredibly inconvenient, but I try to push through it because I like to see new things and meet new people. Also, someone’s cast a curse on me and whenever I go abroad, I come back sick. Went to NYC, came back with a stomach flu. Went to the Netherlands in August, got a crippling cold. Went to Croatia, got heat exhaustion on a boat that knocked me down flat. Went to England, came back with tonsillitis. I can’t wait to see what Las Vegas has for me next year.

16. Some of my favorite TV shows are: Parks and Recreation, Community, Arrested Development, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Sense8, Malcolm in the Middle, Hannibal, Killjoys, Modern Family, Shameless (both UK and US versions!), Veep, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 30 Rock, Children’s Hospital, Twin Peaks, and, like with games, I’m going to stop now.

 

17. My favorite kind of movie is the mindbending genre. Some of my favs (again!): Requiem for a Dream, eXistenz, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Shutter Island, The Man From Earth, Pi, Fight Club… – okay, basically anything you can find here: http://classreal.com/

18. I’m hard-working and versatile. Bribes to my possible (please pick me! MEEEEE!) mentor will include drawings, silly times with yours truly, enthusiasm, eternal love, geekery, and maybe some food. AND THAT IS ALL I’LL SAY!

Go to Christopher Keelty’s blog for more awesome #PitchWars mentee bios!

If you’re still in doubt, remember: my pets are the cutest.

(also, one’s a dragon. A DRAGON)

Panicking Over Ghosts

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I have seen a lot of friends in various states of despair over their revisions, changing their latest novels through and through because either a) agents aren’t biting, b) they’re getting feedback, or c) because they simply want to.

And a lot of them are getting tired and disillusioned because no matter what they change, it’s never enough. Or because they don’t want to, but have to change things in order to make their novels more commercial. Or for several other reasons, and they’re weeping and panicking because they don’t know what else to do.

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. My advice? If you’re pulling the hairs out of your head, if you’re screaming because you can’t find the new path you need to take, if, in general, it’s making you miserable, then please:

Stop.

I’ve had a lot of anxiety-related problems in the past. I have them still, sometimes. I’ve driven myself into holes I couldn’t get out of. I’ve cried myself to sleep over the most menial things, and was it worth it?

No.
No matter how important something is to you, it’s not worth it if it puts you in a constant state of self-deprecating madness. Nothing is.

I get that it’s your dream, but sometimes, you should take a break. Don’t force yourself into changes that are not organic just because you want to please someone else. If you love your novel as-is, don’t change a word because agents aren’t biting. Don’t tire yourself out over something that’s beginning to saturate you. It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your novel.

No one benefits from complete exhaustion. Not you. Not your novel. Not anyone.

Sit back, relax, leave it be, and come back when you have a fresh perspective. In the meantime, write something else, or play a game, or watch a new TV series – do whatever you need to do – but put yourself first. Your writing won’t exist without you, and it certainly won’t benefit from you being so sick of your story you can’t stand it anymore. You’re not abandoning your child, although it can feel like you are. But rather, think of it as going on a much-deserved vacation, and your novel will still be there when you return. And when you come back, you’ll see that everything will flow much better.

No one’s after you. You don’t have to be published right now. You don’t have to be published next year. If it’s meant to be, it will happen, and it will come at the cost of hard work and dedication – but those things rarely happen when you keep on beating a dead horse with a stick. There’s no pressure, except the one you put on yourself.

My point is: don’t drive yourself mad over something you’ve been constantly changing to please someone else. If you’re doing it for yourself, fine. Otherwise?

Yeah, take a break. Or don’t. What do I know?

I’m not your mother. Just a stranger giving unsolicited advice.

Meet my character Blog Hop!

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The lovely Kathleen S. Allen tagged me in this blog hop. You can see hers on her own blog, and it honors me so so so much that she used the free character sketch I made for her during a contest ❤

And now, for my turn!

Meet Zéphyrine

 

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
Zéphyrine – Zéph, for short – is fictional.

2) When is the story set?
It’s a baroque setting in an unnamed fantasy world (seriously, I just call it The World), during Zéph’s father’s quest to end the influence of the Gods on earth.

3) What should we know about him/her?
Zéph is one of the four children of the Ravager (the main antagonist), and is a Mind Witch, which means she can hop around inside people’s heads and manipulate them as she sees fit.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
Her life has always been messed up, so, in a way, conflict happens when it starts becoming less so. When she gets to Almudena (where the story happens), she’s intent on bringing the city to its knees and be done with it. She starts falling for Jasen (the Prince, whom she’s been told to brainwash), but it’s only when she meets Iriae, the one person who could go against the Ravager should she wish to, that Zéph starts having options in regards of where her life goes.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?
First, its to survive through obedience. Zéph’s scared shitless of her father (the one time she was a disappointment to him, he burned her half to death), and she wants to remain on his good side. But at around page 110, it changes into protecting Iriae and Jasen from the destruction the Ravager wants to bring upon Jasen’s country and the world.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
Mind Witch, and you can read if you ask me, I guess. The query is in a separate header in my blog, too 🙂

7) When can we expect the book to be published?
When I get an agent, and said super agent sells this to a publisher. Meanwhile, have one teasers of an unfinished illustration for one of the book’s scenes.

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Boy Meets Psion Preview

Dana Collins, E. L. Wicker, you’re it!
(plz don’t hate me?)

So, I’m a grown-up now

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Not that I haven’t been an adult (technically, anyway) for seven years now. But I have a grown-up job that finally allows me to be monetarily independent. YAY!

And since I’ve been quiet for a while, here are some illustrations I did for Withering Spring (Belladonna) and for Sightless 2.0, the game.

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My group and I delivered this project mid-December. We’re now making the Game Treatment, but in the meantime, here: have the prototype for Sightless.

It’s very short and we had to strip down some of the features to deliver it on time (we had one week to make all of it). Writing and art are by me, coding was by my three colleagues!

What I’ve been doing… part deux

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So, for Game Design and Development, we had to submit a game idea of which the nine most voted by the entire class would be made into game prototypes. I subbed an idea I had based on a re-write of Sightless and it was the third(!) with more votes.So yeah, we’re making it! One tiny step towards one of my dreams, which is turning some of my own novels into games!

I’ve been doing concept art for the game. Here are a couple of screens of Aisling!

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That aside… I’ve been working on fixing key plot points of Withering Spring as well as taking my Master’s degree classes. Busy busy busy!

Excerpt of Hellbound Vol I: Homeless

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To break some of my silence, here’s an excerpt (well, the draft of the first chapter) of one of my projects, the Hellbound series.

 

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No Turning Back

 

Giant, heavy gates stand before me. They are covered in figures, intricate, complex figures that run across the iron surface of the doors, so real I can almost swear some of them are reaching out to me. The voices in my head scream impossibly loud and I take a hand to my temples to steady myself. The taints had never responded to something this way before. These are truly the Gates of Hell.

 

“From this plane, there are two ways to get into hell,” says Balammintur. “One is when you die and your soul belongs there; the other is to simply cross the Gates.”

 

I look at him from the corner of my eye. Even though we haven’t been travelling for more than a couple of days, my cloak and clothes are completely covered in dust and my skin is dirty, whereas he looks immaculate from head to toe. “Is there a way into Heaven?” I ask.

 

“Heaven is full of self-righteous beings who believe you shouldn’t have a physical way to get there. Only after you die and if your soul belongs there can you reach Heaven.” The disgust on Balammintur’s voice is evident as he speaks. Like all devils, he hates celestial beings. There’s only another kind of beings he hates more and it’s demons. He can’t really help it—it’s been infused in his nature, a long time ago, by the Gods. To stop the creatures of Hell from rising against them in Heaven, they split them in half and gave each part a taint: a taint that would drive them to murder one another.

 

I guess it doesn’t help Balammintur that I’m half demon. Earlier today, he even confessed to wanting to kill me these past two days. He just can’t help the urge to close his hands around my throat and squeeze the life out of me. The only reason he didn’t is because, aside from being half-demon, I’m also half-devil and while a part of Balammintur tells him to kill me, the other tells him to protect me.

 

It’s a complicated duo, the taints I have within me. At all times, they’re whispering, screaming, shouting. Right now, one’s begging me to kill Balammintur, while the other is ordering me to stop. The voices are in my head, at all times, andthey’re always like this, always at odds with one another. Sometimes, I’m not sure which one is which, nor of who is telling the truth and who’s lying. They’re always there, always whispering and screaming and commanding, one lying and the other telling the truth. It’s maddening, really. Most of the time, I just want to claw my face out and tear the hair off my head. Often, the voices lead to fits, where I shout nonsense and roll on the floor. Thanks to those spells, my classmates back in New Gewnnpoint had even taken to calling me Iriae, Lady of the Mad.

 

Yes, I had trouble with the voices—and that had been in the Primal Plane. Now, I’m in Purgatory, ready to cross the Gates of Hell and throw myself into a land where the taints reign supreme. The madness in me will increase and I don’t know if I’ll even be able to walk. However, I have to try. For my parents, who have surrendered themselves – my mother to the devils, my father to the demons – to keep both factions of Hell away from me. I have to know if they’re still alive and if that demon invading my school to hunt me wasn’t a fluke. I sincerely hoped he was. The opposite would mean my father was now dead and the demons could come after me whenever they wanted.

 

Therefore, the first order of business was to find if my parents were alive. The second one was to find a way of freeing them from their bonds and taints.

I turn to Balammintur and examine his profile for a moment. He has sharp, strong features, hair as black as ink and if his red cat-like eyes weren’t so spooky, he’d be completely handsome. “So, I just cross them?” I ask, taking a hand to the metal of the doors, touching a sculpted head.

 

“Yes,” Balammintur replies.

 

I push softly and the door opens just a slit under my fingers. I hold my breath and widen the opening.  I knew the theories behind portals, but I’ve never been through one. As I look beyond the door, which is now halfway open, and I see only a plunging tunnel. I turn back. Balammintur’s spine is set very straight and his arms are crossed over his broad chest. One of the voices reminds me he’s a powerful devil, and it makes me think. I’ve actually been pretty curious as to why he’d personally bring me here. He could’ve just dumped me in Enoch and tell me to go to Hell—and I would have found a way to go, literally.

 

However, he’d come all this way with me. I ask him why, my voice surprisingly steady and strong.

 

“You are the future of Hell,” he says, a smirk on his face. His words startle me and so does his expression. He has very sharp teeth, and I can’t help but think of a tiger, ready to strike. He looks that predatory.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“There is an old story,” he tells me. “One about the true child of Hell, the one which will unite demons and devils under her banner. She will make them one again and she’ll guide them to a war against Heaven. Are you familiar with it?”

 

I have never heard of such a tale—and the taints have taught me many. “No,” I answer truthfully.

 

“Well, you should be, little Iriae,” he says. He has called me ‘little Iriae’ from the day we met. When I asked him about it, he said it’s because I’m so young. It’s true, in a way. Sixteen is young, especially when your mother’s an elf. However, I’ve never felt young. Not with the voices I constantly hear in my head, voices whose sounds have cost me a childhood.

 

“Why?” I ask.

 

“Because I believe you’re at the heart of it.” He is so certain when he tells me this, so unwavering in his conviction that, for a moment, I believe him. One of the taints does, too, but the other denies it with all its might.

 

I smile faintly, tired of this constant fight over my brain. “I highly doubt that. The taints tend to agree when the central aspect of a discussion is my well-being. They don’t now.”

 

“Ah, but that’s the thing,” Balammintur says. He steps towards me then, his figure towering over mine—which is a considerable feat, seeing that I’m pretty tall—and puts a hand to my cheek. It’s both a caress and a plea. My body is conflicted about shifting away from his touch and staying there. It’s not because I’m attracted to Balammintur, not really. The urge to both stay and go is also a byproduct of the taints within me, the demon and the devil, never agreeing.

 

“Your taints don’t see it now. But they will, soon. And when they do, little Iriae, they will both tell you what to do and you must listen to them.”

 

I scoff. “There’s no way the taints will agree to anything.”

 

“When you’re ready, they will.” He withdraws his hand and pats me on the shoulder. “Now go. Your parents are waiting for you.”

 

“You claim I’m this special child and yet, you’re letting me go into Hell all by myself,” I say, sticking my chin up in defiance.

 

He grins, his pointy teeth even more evident. “Do not worry, little one. The moment you really need me, I’ll be there.”

 

With that, he just pivots on his heels and begins walking away from the doors. I feel my whole body tense. If there’s a point where I can turn away from Hell and my insane plot, where I can cower and go back home to my aunt, this is it. If my resolve was any weaker, I do believe I would have taken this window of opportunity.

 

It’s not.

 

I watch him go until he is nothing but a mere dot in the horizon. When Balammintur’s figure starts being hard to see, I adjust my backpack and tighten the cloak around me. I grit my teeth and breathe in deeply. This is it. This is when I go down to Hell and start the journey to find and free my parents.

 

I take a step into the tunnel and another and another. Soon, I’m immersed in deep darkness. I raise my left hand, palm up, and whisper a few words in the Gods’ language. A small flame sparks to life, casting a dim light across the tunnel.

 

For a while—minutes, hours, I’m not sure,—I walk, but it gets to a point where I feel hungry and have to stop. The taints are ever-present and I want nothing more than to scream them out of my head. When I cut into the cheese, my hands are trembling so much I nearly cut myself. I eat and go on. I go on and on and on until the smell of fire and soot invades my nostrils. I see an opening, a light at the end of the tunnel and I run for it. Ahead, I can see the flames, the heavy black fog rising in the air, forming dark clouds in the horizon.

I have reached the first Circle of Hell.

 

At that moment, I thought my parents’ warnings about me getting too close to Hell had been unnecessary. My head didn’t feel any worse than it usually was. The taints were speaking a bit louder than usual, true, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.

 

I step out of the darkness and the moment my thick-soled boots touch the sand on the other side, I lose control of my body.

Today’s Camp…

Standard

Late at night, Audrey sat by the window and looked up at the starry night sky. God, she wished her life was different. She wished she wasn’t just average at everything. Everyone excelled at something, but her? She was a master of nothing.

A star fell. Scientifically speaking, the star had died millions of years ago and only now could you see it from Earth. But some people—those who didn’t care about science and preferred to live their lives with pretty little tales,—believed that, if you saw a falling star, you should wish upon it.

Audrey didn’t believe it would do anything. The star was dead, after all. But as the star disappeared into the horizon, she thought of how good it would be if things were different. How good it would be if she finally found her calling, her passion, her one special talent, the one thing that would set her apart from everyone.

She knew it was stupid, but she thought it anyway.