A chat with the developer of Buried

Okay folks…Buried goes live tomorrow. Links will be provided here very soon. In the meantime, since I managed to nail down an interview with Gimu, the artist that crafted the music for the game, I thought it would be an equally good idea to pick the brain of Brice Morrison, the man that originally contacted me about writing a script for his game.

He’s been a pleasure to work with and I certainly hope there’s more collaboration on the horizon…

Hey, Brice. Thanks for stopping by. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background with designing and creating games?

Sure. I’ve been making games since I was in middle school and taught myself how to program. I went to University of Virginia and founded their Student Game Development Group, and then went to EA out in the SF Bay Area where I worked in the Sims Division on Wii and PC games. That was around the time Facebook games were exploding, so I went over to Zynga where I worked on ChefVille, which was the world’s largest cooking/restaurant game. Last year I left to start up my own company, which led to us working on this project together!
One of the things you and I have sort of discussed off and on is the proper way to develop a narrative within a gameplay environment. Can you share your thoughts how telling a compelling story in a game environment is different than writing a novel?

The single biggest difference between games and every other medium is that games are interactive: the experience is different depending on who is playing. So in a traditional story you would read about someone who decided to pull the trigger, but in a game you get to decide for yourself, based on everything that’s happened, whether you want to pull the trigger or not.

The approach you and I have taken is to start with a compelling traditional story as a baseline, but then insert ourselves into the scenes and ask: what would I do? Would I handle this differently? If I was actually there, would I care about that, or would I be more interested in doing something else? If those questions are being answered adequately, then I think we can end up with compelling choices.

Why did you decide to go with a text-based approach for Buried? Is there an existing market for these sorts of games or is it relatively new territory?

Interactive fiction has been around for a long time, since the 80’s. However it’s always been a relatively small niche. But with mobile devices I saw an opportunity to bring those great kinds of stories to a wider audience.

What sorts of games do you like to play in your own spare time?

I’m a big fan of the TellTale games, and the influence in Buried is obvious. I also play a lot of mobile games, most recently Smashy Road and Rovio’s Retry.

How about books? Any favorites?

The original Dracula will always be one of my favorites. It’s amazing to read about the moon peeking through the clouds, the dark forest looming over a lonely dirt road, Dracula’s high bridged nose and unusual annunciation of his words and think “Wow, this is all really cliche.” But then you realize, no, it’s actually the original! Everyone else is the cliche.

Once Buried is released, what does the game-making future look like for you?

We’d like to make more games! Depending on how well Buried does, we might make another. But we have other games planned as well. We showed off our puzzle game Cloud Grove this year at PAX Prime in Seattle, so that will be coming out sometime in 2016.

Making Spooky Sounds: An Interview with Gimu about Composing the Music for Buried

With Buried being released in a little more than three weeks, I’ve started looking back over the six month journey and find it hard to believe that it’s been six months. One of the moments I recall quite clearly is writing the script to some pretty dark ambient music. I started with Robert Rich, Brian Eno, Jasper TX, and Biosphere. But then I ended up in the endless maze of bandcamp and came across a few artists that I really liked.

One of them was Gimu. So much of his music absolutely nailed the tone I was trying to write towards. So I pitched Brice Morrison (overall head honcho of the project) the idea of reaching out to Gimu to see if he’d be interested in making some music to our unique game.

A few days later, Gimu was on board and crafting what ended up to be some truly great ambient work that I truly feel enhances the game beyond measure.

Because I’m a music geek, I wanted to give Gimu a platform to talk about the creation of the game’s music as well as music in general. Without further delay, here’s Gimu…

 

 

Are there any games or movies that you really enjoy the score to?

I can say I don’t like it when the score is too clean, too polished, lots of orchestra or synth sounds only. Some scores are just ruined because of that choice. I wonder what some composers listen to or like when I think a score doesn’t suit a movie at all. I know it has to do with what appeal to most people, etc, etc, and most people are not into “weird”, harsh sounds.

I can’t really remember when I was last impressed by a, say, horror movie score that made me go “wow!” I mean… I’ve only recently watched Suspiria and, its score is eerily magnificent. There is this documentary called Patience (After Sebald). The music for it was made by The Caretaker, one of my favorite artists, and it’s simply wonderful.

As for game music, I like things such as Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssee, The Blinding of Isaac, Secret of Evermore, etc. Sorry if I sound too elusive but I’ve come to understand that not mentioning names might be a good idea.

 

What are some of your favorite ambient artists? Why?

I don’t really listen to a lot of ambient artists or ambient music. I try to listen to as much new music as possible (and it can be anything) but I lean towards drone or its variations. I enjoy music that seems to cause time to stand still. I love William Basinski but I wouldn’t say it’s ambient music. I listen to a lot of pop music, too.

 

The majority of your music is dark and gloomy. Do you enjoy listening to things that are the opposite of that?

I was listening to The Smiths on my way to work today. I’ve checked the last things I’ve listened to on rdio. They are: Vangelis, Violeta de Outono, Mercenárias (two 80’s underground Brazilian bands), the Eraserhead soundtrack, Seefeel, The Auteurs, Arca, Flying Saucer Attack, etc. I’ve been listening to some albums released by UAE Records which is my home now. I simply love the music that label puts out.

 

What equipment and/or software do you use?

Essentialy my iMac and my Macbook. And that’s it. I have lots of gear I haven’t used for years because I got sick and tired of them and wanted to explore all the sound possibilities a computer could give me. It appears to be endless. I could call it ideology: I want to keep it as basic as possible, like, “this is my tool, this is what I have. What can I create?” It’s exciting. Live Ableton is the DAW I use but I don’t use it to create sounds. There’s a lot of sampling and looping going on on my songs as well as things I create myself by playing or hitting stuff.

 

What does a typical recording session look like for you?

No one would say I am making music. Myself and a computer. It’s really quiet. I live in an apartment which means having to wear headphones all the time. Such a disappointing answer, isn’t it?

 

Do you utilize field recordings? What can you tell those that might not know about field recordings how they are used?

Grab a recorder…and that can be an app on your cell phone or some very pro piece of gear and go for a walk. I do utilize field recordings but sometimes they are heavily manipulated. So the sound of a wave on a song of mine would never sound like the sound of wave. I just avoid obvious things like bird sounds, for instance. It’s thrilling to know – when you finally understand it – that any sound can become something else. It’s something I have in mind whenever I am working on music:

I don’t want the listener to easily find out what the source of that sound is or how it was made. Some days ago a good friend was saying great things about the guitar sound on this song of mine called “Dust” and… I could’ve kept it a secret but had to tell him there’s no guitar at all on that song.

 

If someone wanted to start a venture into listening to your music, which album would you recommend to start off with.

Can it be 6 albums? They’re all on my bandcamp page:

“Of The Spirit, Of The Space”

“The Whole World Is Tired Today”

“Sadly Dying Out Never To Resurface Again”

“Moving Still”

“Alien Ancestry”

“Mercury Stuck At Freezing”

“Alien Ancestry” could be the first one. Really like that one.

 

After working on Buried, is composing music for games something you would do again in the future?

Definitely. I was in the dark but excited I finally had that chance! I’m not an expert but I do know that some elements of what I do suit music for movies and games quite well, and I just hope “Buried” is the beginning of something for me.

 

Where can people learn more about you and you music online?

https://gimu.bandcamp.com/

 

*A note from Barry: Since conducting the interview, Gimu has included several previews of tracks from Buried on his bandcamp page. Check them out and get geared up for the game’s release in January.

 

 

“Great, you’re a writer. Now, can you do this and this, too?”

A few weeks back, there were rumblings within the horror and small press communities about how a certain small press relieved long-time editor Don D’Auria of his duties. Most might have just read the headlines and went on their merry way…but because I am familiar with the name (I have gotten at least 2 rejections from him in my path to trying to do this writing thing full time), I started to pay attention.

The gist is this: the small press in question relieved Mr. D’Auria of his duties because they felt he was not a success in the social media aspect of publishing. They wanted an editor that was geared more towards social media to replace him. They let an editor with tons of experience and a fairly consistent following go because he wasn’t well-versed in Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

As I said, this is the very boiled down version. If you want the whole dark and seedy story, I suggest you check out this post from Brian Keene, as he is one of the few horror writers out there that will tell you how it is in the industry at the moment, warts and all.

But this isn’t a post about what that small publisher did to Don D’Auria. This is about the weird slant to the publishing industry that caused him to be let go.

Over the past three years or so, I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of publishing houses and agencies that ask what sort of social media following you have in your query letter. While I guess I understand the need for this information in a Facebook-driven world, I have to be honest here and say that I really resent this.

What this implies, when boiled all down, is that a growing number of agencies and publishers see it as a benefit to them if a new writer has a social media base already built. To go one step farther, it also indicates that a social media following for a new prospective author is attractive to these agencies and publishers.

But let’s be honest…where’s the sense in that? This makes one think that even if you have a great manuscript with tons of potential, it might be overlooked because you don’t have thousands of followers on social media. On the other hand, a writer that might not be all that great might be given more consideration than a much better writer just because they have a crazy number of Twitter followers.

Basically…if you’re a writer, that’s not enough any more. You also have to know how to navigate the social media waters. Apparently, the same is now true of small-to-mid sized publishers as well.

Again, yes,I understand the logic in this. It makes an easy sort of sense. And I have even had work published by a house that puts a lot of stock in your social media output.

But I also think that the increasing focus on social media savviness is a little demeaning to writers. In some cases, it also seems as if the agencies or publishers are looking for writers than can do some of the marketing haul themselves.

I for one am not a huge fan of social media. Sure, it’s fun, but I’d much rather be writing my next novel instead of tinkering around on Facebook and Twitter, trying to get more followers just so I might catch the attention of a publisher or agency that is more interested in the number of Twitter followers I have than the content of my manuscript.

Am I alone on this? All I know is that as a writer with barely over 1,000 Twitter followers, when I see a request for my “social media presence,” I automatically feel as though my manuscript, whether it’s good or bad, is not enough and I have to be this other thing, too.

Sure, I can spend a few hours on Twitter an follow random people that I don’t know, hoping they’ll follow me back. Or I could spend some time reading numerous articles about how to grow my Facebook friends or Twitter followers. Or I could buy one of the hundreds of e-books currently on Amazon about how to master the art of social media.

But as a writer, I’d rather be…well, writing.

If any agencies or publishers happen to read this, I’d love for you to leave a comment to better explain your side of things. Writers, feel free to sound off, too.

 

A true event from the life of a scatter brained writer that works at home with a 2 year old

We went to dinner last night on campus at Liberty University because my awesome wife is part-time staff and there was an employee appreciation event. It was something fin and  different to do for dinner. Plus, the food was free for employees and their families, so FREE FOOD.

As the kids are getting situated, my wife notices a USB stick / thumb drive (what are these ACTUALLY called these days?) falling to the floor. She picked it up, assuming that it likely belonged to one of the hundreds of LU students with computer bags surrounding us. However, I noticed it and saw that it is the exact same style of the one that I use to save all of my writing to. I have used it for about 5 years now, saving fragment of stories, outlines, and new ideas. There are easily 70-75 ideas on that drive and, at last count, the beginnings of 4 novels that I hope to one day finish…not to mention 2 novels that are just about done.

  The thumb drive was even faded in some of the same spots as my writing disk. But there was no way it was mine…why would my thumb drive be on the floor in an LU dining hall?

So we asked the student behind us if she dropped it. She eyed it, said “I do have one like that,” and sort of reluctantly takes it. You could tell that she recognized it but, like me, was confused as to why it would be on the floor of the dining hall.

We started eating and after a while, I figured it is maybe more than a coincidence…it looks EXACTLY like mine, down to the last detail. But there is NO REASON it should be on an LU dining hall floor. I silently obsess over this for the next half an hour. What if I cause a stink and ask for it back, only to get home and find the poor girl’s term papers and assignments on it? Still, because my wife is AWESOME, she decides to leave her name and number with the student JUST IN CASE the student finds that it is not her USB but, in fact, is filled with about 5 years of a horror writer’s stories and purged nightmares.

The student decides maybe it’s not hers after all and hands it over. She does so with the attitude of “I really don’t want to hear your explanation; just take it. I’m trying to eat.”

So we take it from her and then head home When we get back, I put the USB in our computer.

Yep…it was mine.

I have no idea how it got to our dinner. Did one of the kids picks it up? Probably not, as the 2 year old had no pockets on her pants and the older two know not to mess with anything around my computer. Did I maybe put it in the pouch of my hoodie in a hurry to leave the house, not even thinking about it? Maybe. I am always very particular about where my disks go, but maybe I slipped up this one time. I certain;y have no recollection of pocketing it that afternoon.

Either way…HUGE bullet dodged. If I did indeed place it in my pocket, it could have fallen out anywhere. And if that had happened, I’d be in the process of being admitted into a psych ward today.

The lesson out of this? Well, I’ll be spending the next several days backing up ALL of my files from the last 5 years of writing now. Still sweating over this.

Break Every Chain is now available

Break Every Chain copyAfter running his life into the gutter through alcoholism and selfishness, Ryan takes part in an impromptu missions trip in an attempt to find some sort of peace. He visits a rescue home for underage girls in Nicaragua who have been rescued from sexual slavery, hoping to sort out his life. He begins to come to terms with the current state of his life and his shaken faith.  In the midst of this, he becomes involved in an ill-advised rescue attempt that leaves him stranded and wounded in the mountains of Nicaragua. With only a six year-old girl to help, Ryan needs to not only figure out how to survive, but also how to save several young girls who have recently been sold into sexual slavery.

Break Every Chain is now available in Kindle and paperback.  This post comes so close on the heels of its release that Amazon hasn’t even figured out that the two formats need to be linked.

As such, you can grab your Kindle copy here.

Or get your paperback edition here.

And most importantly, please help spread the word!

Buried

If you’ve been paying attention on my Twitter and Facebook feeds over the last few months, you may have noticed me mention a rather large project I have been working on since about July. I’ve given scant details about it because it’s a project that stretched me and asked me to write in a way I have never written before. I was also working for a company that was trying to stay secretive about the project.

Remember those Choose Your Adventure books that were all the rage in grade school?  “Turn to page 35 to jump over the lava or turn to page 82 to throw Tom into the lava.” That sort of thing.

Well, I’ve written a very modern day Choose Your Adventure book. Only, it’s not a book. It’s a mobile game. Technically, its an interactive text-based game for your mobile device. I think that’s how it’s being marketed. And it’s going to be available in mid-to-late November.

This is about all I can say about the project for now. The company that is releasing it is still working out kinks like making it attractive on smaller devices, even the Apple Watch.

More on this to come, including screen shots. For now, here’s a glimpse at a draft of the title screen.

TempTitleScreen

Acceptance is not the same as giving up

The last few months have been eye-opening for me in terms of my writing goals. They have also been eye-opening in terms of how I live my life. I haven’t come to any profound conclusions on existence or anything like that, but these have been revelations that, I think, are going to change the path of my writing, as well as the path of this blog.

Anyone that reads this blog with any kind of regularity knows that I work from home as a ghostwriter. The time I spend doing it is often hard to come by, as I have a two year old here with me all day. And on the days she doesn’t get a nap, the only time I get to work is when she is enjoying her hour and a half of screen time in the morning.  Sometimes I also work late at night but I am trying to eliminate that because I am finding that as I get older, sleep is more necessary. Blech.

Because of the hard-to-find time, my own fiction writing has to take a back seat. In the last six weeks, I have written about ten thousand words of my own writing. Granted, some of that writing time has been occupied with working on final edits with Elk Lake Press for the release of Jubilee (which is about to get re-named, I do believe). But still, the majority of my writing time is spent ghostwriting. It pays the bills, it’s fun, and I’m learning a ton about the publishing industry as well as my own writing in the process.

That’s where this blog is going to change. I’ve been threatening it for a while now but today I’m actually pulling the trigger on it. To date, 95% of the posts you’ve seen here have been about my own writing and the milestones that have occurred along the way. That’s one of the reasons for the lull in posts over the last year and a half or so: not much has happened.

However, on my “work” end, lots has happened. I’ve gone from scrounging for work to having to turn down jobs because there aren’t enough days in the month. I’m beginning to appreciate ghostwriting a bit more, even though it does distract me from my own writing. Slowly, I am finding the trick to balancing out both and I seriously believe that I’ll have it figured out by the end of the year.

Another thing I have realized is that I almost push my identity as a work at home dad under the carpet so I can identify as a writer first and foremost. Well, that’s really not how it works. Most days, writing is not the first thing on my mind. Instead, it’s work and watching my two year old daughter grow up way too fast.

So while I am not abandoning this blog (in fact, I plan to keep it much more active), the scope of it will change. You’re going to see some in-jokes, griping, and celebrating in the realm of ghostwriting. Similarly, you’re going to get a peek inside the life of a 35 year old that works at home, making up stories and editing the stories of others, while a two year old girl runs his life behind the scenes.

Of course, I’ll still be writing about progress towards my writing career (of the non-ghostwriting variety) when it’s relevant. For instance, I’ll be posting news about the release of Jubilee (or whatever it ends up being called) in the coming days.

If you haven’t gathered by now, yes, it is quite a dilemma to have an identity crisis when you are a writer. But even now, with the mediocre successes I’ve had, I’m learning that I’m honestly just beginning.

Besides…I have my entire life to keep writing, but just a few years to enjoy my kids before they start resenting a father who embarrasses them because he writes weird stories and oh God dad, please don’t talk to me in front of my friends!

This is not me waving a white flag and giving up on my original dreams of becoming a full-time writer of my own fiction. Instead, think of it as taking that white flag and folding into the shape of a sail that will go on a boat…a boat that knows choppy waters are coming, but there’s new land to be discovered eventually.

That is, just as long as I can finally convince the crew that the world is indeed round and we aren’t going to fall off the edge.

I AM. I AM NOT.

It doesn’t take much for me to start re-evaluating things, particularly when it comes down to life goals. For instance, when Amazon kicked off this pay-per-page thing for their Select titles, I immediately wondered what it meant for the plans I had to release a few shorter works between 9,000 – 15,000 words. It made me wonder I really even wanted to write those stories.

Of course, I probably will…if I can find the time. Why?

Because I am a writer and that’s what I do. If I don’t get the ideas out, I have to listen to them dry up and die in my head.

It’s not a pretty sound.

Such a small blip in the radar such as this Amazon thing can cause me to re-evaluate quite a bit. It made me take a longer look at my goals in regards to writing and what I want to see myself doing within the next few years. And, as usual, it had me questioning the way I have been approaching things.

It made me really dig into the core of who I am as a writer.

And I came up with a list that sounds a little grumpy but, I think, more honest and realistic than I have been with myself in quite some time. The list is as follows…

I AM a writer. I am making very modest profits from my work and some people even like my books. I have enough story ideas to last me at least another five years and a new one pops up seemingly every week. I AM NOT a marketing person, which means that I resent the fact that authors are now expected to blog, tweet, litter Facebook, and spend their money for ad placement on websites.

I AM a author and father that writes spooky stuff. I AM NOT a horror author the uses violence for the sake of violence or gore for the sake of gore. If I have to resort to shock value to get people to start talking about me, then I might as well hang it up. I’d like my kids to one day read my stuff and not wonder who the hell was raising them.

I AM a horror author that is also a Christ follower. A lot of people don’t see how this works which, quite frankly, baffles me. I’d say the bulk of horror has a lot of faith-based content at its core, especially when it comes down to good vs. evil.  I AM NOT a Christian that believes all of my “unsaved” fellow writers need to be bludgeoned over the head with Scripture or called out in any sort of public forum as being wrong in their own beliefs (if any at all).

I AM a writer that tends to weave a bit of my beliefs into my work, but not in a pushy or obtrusive way. I AM NOT a writer that shoves my beliefs down the throats of my readers through my work.

I AM a writer that works from home with three kids over the summer. My workspace is also a playroom of sorts for the kids and on any given day there are Legos, Little People, or crayons in the floor. I AM NOT an ungrateful writer or father that wishes things were different, even when I start to think about that dream office that we might one day get built in the attic.

I AM a writer. I AM NOT ashamed of the dreams I have of one day seeing my name on a spine in a bookstore (depending on how long brick and mortar stores are still around). I’ve been in a few TOCs in books in bookstores but let’s face it…that’s not the same.

I AM honest. I AM NOT phased by the hardcore indie writers that say seeing your name in a bookstore is a stupid dream. I once had a recurring dream as a kid about an apple tree, a pit, and a crumbling house. It was a stupid dream, but it has stuck with me to this day. Stupid dreams are sometimes the most significant.

I AM a writer. I can’t help but write. I don’t care what becomes of Amazon and it’s practices. If things get too sketchy I’ll go back to much forgotten art of querying agents…something I still do from time to time. I AM NOT going to let the changes and regulations of a digital publishing platform dictate how or when I write.

I AM a writer that is concerned with writing a good story. I AM NOT concerned with trying figure out the algorithms of a digital marketplace or trying to manipulate that same system with titles being constantly free or by bombarding my Twitter feed with BUY MY BOOK PRETTY PLEASE propaganda.

And lastly, as anyone that frequents this blog already knows…

I AM a writer. I AM NOT a good blogger.

Putting the “Ghost” in Ghostwriting

Not too long ago, as I was talking about my ghostwriting work on Twitter, a writer seemed shocked and borderline disgusted that I would turn to ghostwriting as a means of income. To them, it seemed like a betrayal of my own ideas and work. And to be honest, there are days where I feel like this.

But ultimately, here’s what it boils down to: I have not yet started making enough with my own writing to provide for my family. Ghostwriting bridges that gap and while I don’t enjoy every project I work on, I am still being paid to write. I am being paid to do something I love.

It’s a question that comes up a lot. “How do you balance the ghostwriting with your own writing?”

It’s harder than you might think, but I’ve worked out something of a formula for it over the last few years. All of this, really, just leads to a post that I wrote on my Phantom Pen Ghostwriting blog two years ago and it’s sort of inspiring to read it all over again and see that all of it still rings true.

If you care to read it, you can do so here.