Category Archives: Action & Adventure

Paid to Play: Writing Licensed Fan Fiction in Kindle Worlds

We’ve all heard that writing fan fiction is something that professional writers don’t do. Fan fiction has a stigma attached to it of being vastly amateur and a waste of time for aspiring authors who should be cutting their teeth on their own works. The truth of the matter is that fan fiction has a very large fan base and can provide a great opportunity for new writers to hone their abilities. Yet, being paid for writing fan fiction has always been reserved for authors who sign literary contracts to write “media tie-ins.” The media tie-in was essentially the sole professional version of fan fiction until Kindle Worlds came along.

Kindle Worlds is a project from Amazon that allows authors to write licensed fan fiction in any of the licensed world. Authors can earn royalties (typically 30%) from their works in a licensed world. Works can be any length from short story to full novels. The only “catch” is that Amazon and that licensed world own your story in perpetuity. Licensed worlds include the worlds of bestselling authors Hugh Howey, Bella Andre, and Kurt Vonnegut. Other worlds include television properties (Vampire Diaries, Wayward Pines, Veronica Mars) and comic book properties (G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero, Quantum and Woody, XO Man-o-War). All an author has to do is have an idea, check the Kindle Worlds quality/content guidelines for that licensed world, write a story, and publish it. It’s licensed fan fiction, and I can say from experience, a huge opportunity.

A few years ago at the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, I met Hugh Howey. We had a great conversation then, and ever since via infrequent emails. I first heard about Kindle Worlds from Hugh. Roughly about the time that I finished the second of his Silo Saga novels (SHIFT), I had an idea for a story in his universe. Knowing that the universe was available through the Kindle Worlds program, I worked up a story and promptly hesitated. On the cusp of submitting the story, I chickened out and emailed Hugh for advice. He told me to publish the story, and I did. I’ve published several short stories via Kindle, but none has sold like my Silo Sage novelette “Vessel.” It’s been out for a couple of years and has never left the Top 200 in Kindle Worlds Science Fiction and Fantasy, topping out at #3. The story has done nicely, putting some extra money in my account while generating name recognition. I never thought about name recognition as a by-product for Kindle Worlds until I had an idea for another story in a different universe.

As a kid, the cartoon series G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero was my favorite series of all time. When I saw that its universe was part of Kindle Worlds, I was amazed and thrilled. In the Kindle Worlds stories, there are some really good ones including those by bestselling author Carrie Vaughn and my friends Peter Wacks and Aaron Michael Ritchey. On a getaway weekend to Breckenridge a couple of years ago, I had an idea for a story in that universe and wrote it inside of a week. After some read-throughs and edits, I used the Kindle Worlds cover builder, formatted the book, and set it live. What happened next is surreal. About 24 hours after I set the title live, I had a Twitter notification on my account (@TheWriterIke). I’d been mentioned in a tweet from Amazon Kindle Worlds that reached almost 35,000 subscribers. They’d also tagged one of the major G.I.Joe toy collector groups, and they then retweeted it to another 6,000 subscribers. The story hit #7 in all of Kindle Worlds within the next few hours. I gained fifty or so Twitter followers. Like “Vessel,” my short story “Friends In High Places” has continued to do very well, and the fact that it’s licensed fan fiction is something I’m very proud of.

I believe firmly that writers should seek payment for our work. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills. Kindle Worlds is a perfect opportunity to play in someone else’s world while earning royalties and gaining exposure. Check them out at KindleWorlds.Amazon.Com and see if there is a licensed world you’re familiar with. Then, if the muse whispers in your ear, sit down and write the best story you possibly can. You never know what might happen with it.

The White Whale of Adaptations – A Blockbuster Video Game Movie

Roger Ebert (may he rest in peace) famously contended that video games are not art. He acknowledged that video games could contain art within themselves, but that they, as a whole, did not constitute art. The reason? The end -user of a video game, namely the player, had too much control over what did and didn’t happen. True art, Mr. Ebert contended, was something that could only be experienced by the end-user, never directed or controlled.

Now, I know plenty of gamers who would love to challenge Mr. Ebert’s assertion, myself included. But in at least one respect video games have lagged behind “story-based” art such as books, television, and films themselves. Despite three decades of in-home gaming, there has yet to be a video game adapted into a movie that is both critically and commercially successful.

Now, as any gamer and movie-goer can tell you, this is not for lack of trying. From 2001’s Tomb Raider to 2016’s Warcraft, Hollywood is littered with video game movies that were critical failures, commercial failures, or more often, both. This despite video gaming as an industry projected to make $82 billion (with a “b”) in revenue in 2017. Put simply, the intersection between moviegoers and video gamers must be huge. There is a ton of money to be made if this pairing can be made successfully.

So why haven’t we had that breakthrough film adapting a video game yet?

In actuality, I believe there are several difficulties in adapting video game into passive viewer experiences. From most to least obvious, I’ll discuss them below.

  1. Many people like playing video games. Significantly fewer like watching someone else play them. Repetitive action by the player with slight variations makes up a majority of most video games’ run-time. For the gamer, this is usually fun if the game is well-designed, because they are in control. For a passive observer, not so much. So the first step of any attempt to adapt a game into a successful and artful film is to figure out which parts of the game have to get stripped out. You’ve got to compress the game to a two-hour run-time without boring people to tears OR losing the feel of what you are trying to adapt. The Last of Us is a beautiful and wrenching story of love and loss in the twilight of humankind, but a film version would still need to find the balance between just-enough and too-much stabbing of fungal-zombies.
  2. Story continues to be secondary in many games. Now this only makes sense. The goal of a game is to provide the player with an enjoyable interactive experience. Telling them a story is generally secondary. While some people (me again) will almost always prefer a game with a well-written story (and there are plenty of those now), many are just looking for an escapist good time with endless replay value and the chance to pretend-kill their friends online. With some notable exceptions, most video games did not expend much effort on a meaningful story until relatively recently (and even now, many still don’t bother). This doesn’t mean that games can’t be adapted into quality films, but it does narrow the field of possible candidates quite a bit. But surely a movie based on the board game Battleship can be green-lit, Hollywood can do better in the video game adaptation department.
  3. Video games are waiting for their champion. This one came to me after Sam Raimi successfully adapted Spider Man into a successful and critically acclaimed movie. At around the same time, Peter Jackson knocked it out of the park with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which Frank Morin will be discussing later in the month as Evan Braun tackles his more complicated The Hobbit trilogy of films. What did these two filmmakers have in common? They were both huge fans of the subject matter they were adapting. And that’s what the coming breakthrough video game movie is going to need, a talented director who grew up loving video games and has a special one close to their heart that they are going to make into a film if it kills them. The problem with video games (as opposed to classic fantasy or comic books) is that the medium hasn’t been around long enough for those directors to really come of age. But do the math with me. It’s been just over thirty years (ugh) since the Nintendo Entertainment System took the home-gaming world by storm. An entire generation of directors who grew up playing video games is just entering the height of their careers. All it’s going to take is the right pairing of director and project.

And that’s where we’re going to wrap things up. Make no mistake, the time of the video game blockbuster film that wows critics is coming, and it’s coming soon. And there are so many games to choose from. The Last of Us has a more emotionally moving story than most movies I’ve seen. With the revivals of both Star Wars and Star Trek, the Mass Effect universe is just begging for a cinematic franchise. Ditto for Dragon Age. Bioshock: Infinite is the very definition of a game whose mind-bending story of parallel universes is better than its gameplay.

So take heart, fellow gamers who watch with envy as every single comic book character is adapted for film. It won’t be long now.

 

About the Author: Gregory D. LittleHeadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, and the upcoming Dragon Writers Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

Writing Pulp for the Modern Reader

I love the old pulp masters. I grew up reading Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, E.E. “Doc” Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and those authors made an indelible impression on my creative psyche. I devoured those stories, and they stuck in me down deep in the leaf mold. (See my essay “Cultivating the Fungus”.) The trouble is, if I go back and read those stories, I cannot help but do it with a modern eye, through my modern sensibilities. Unfortunately, as much as I loved it as a kid, a lot of that stuff doesn’t read very well nowadays. One must put on the Nostalgia Glasses to overlook racist and/or sexist passages and themes embedded in the culture of the times.

I used to think that adventure stories filled with barbarians, ape-men, Martian swordsmen, ancient demi-gods, and sloe-eyed femme fatales complete with heaving bosoms were just fun stories. They weren’t trying to make some sort of point.

Except that even the stories of Conan did have something to say. Robert E. Howard did have something to say. Many of the Conan stories were about the triumph of barbarism over civilization. Through his fiction, Howard made the point over and over that human savagery and brutality, barbarism, would not only win out over the forces of civilization, but it would rightfully do so. Barbarism was purer, more honest, more innocent, than the lies and treachery of civilization. Treacherous politicians and vile, self-serving priests schemed and plotted. Enemy warlords lurked at the outskirts, and only a stronger sword-arm and greater cunning could keep them at bay. In Howard’s stories, one is hard-pressed to find an honest, respectable “civilized man,” but if you do, he’s likely being victimized by other “civilized men.” It is only through the brute force and savage cunning of the barbarian that things are put right.

With few exceptions in Conan stories, women are for saving or reward. Nevertheless, Conan had a consistent almost chivalric attitude toward women. He was never a pillager. He never took advantage. It was the civilized men who did such things. But there was no doubt that he stood higher in status than any female. Conan was the Alpha of Alphas.

For modern readers, these attitudes are undeniably sexist, just as some of Lovecraft’s passages regarding foreigners and blacks smacked of profound racism.

I didn’t bother to think about this stuff when I was twelve, or even twenty. I just wanted to enjoy the stories.

A certain segment of the readership yearns for some imagined societal return to those days when women, non-whites, and strange religions knew their place. Things were simpler. We didn’t have to worry about all these weirdos coming into the playground and spoiling all the fun. It is not 1930 anymore, or 1950, or even 1970. Times they are a-changin’, and there ain’t nuthin’ gonna make things “simple” again (even though they were never really as simple as some believe). Those folks can keep reading the same old sexist, racist stuff and be perfectly happy.

All art, including writing, is a product of its time. Those of us who want to write fun, pulpy stories for the modern reader must have a modern sensibility, a sensibility that includes the wider, diverse possibilities of modern life. This modern life includes an equal place for women, for minorities, for non-Western cultures.

“But what about writing stories set in a non-modern world?” you might say. “How do I write stories set in eras where women are still second-class citizens, or in pre-Civil War America, or the Jim Crow South? Won’t they sound racist or sexist or whatever?”

It’s an easy trap to fall into. It all comes down to how you treat those times. Try using different characters than the stalwart white male. Turn the old sexist/racist tropes on their heads. Give agency to characters who traditionally are downtrodden. But most importantly, treat them with respect. That means knowing and internalizing their perspectives, their unique struggles, and avoiding racist/sexist tropes.

This isn’t just fan service. Such efforts not only result in richer stories, a richer literature, they personally enrich the author. No one can write from the perspective of The Other, with truth and honesty, and not be changed by it. We have walked a mile in somebody else’s shoes.

Could we still write characters like Conan today? Certainly, but he would not be received the way he was in 1935. To connect with a modern readership, you need to balance such a character with a few more spices, like Indian cooking. Characters of color or strong women can balance larger-than-life machismo. Or maybe we can have a Conan-like character who’s black or Lakota or Chinese. Rather than seeing “political correctness is so restrictive!”, recognize that you now have a whole new set of interesting tools for your writer toolkit, even though it might take effort to learn how to use them.

Writers can still write swashbuckling, pulpy fun, but we have to imagine that our audience includes people who are not fifteen-to-thirty-year-old white males (more and more we discover that audiences always included women and minorities, but they never had major characters who represented them). Nowadays, we should give readers of all shades, ethnicities, orientations, and gender variations someone they recognize, someone to root for. Give them a character whose boots they can imagine stepping into, so that their imaginations can fly free on your words.

About the Author: Travis Heermann

Heermann-6death-wind-front-coverTravis Heermann’s latest novel Death Wind, co-authored with jim pinto, was published in September 2016, by WordFire Press.

Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, he is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of The Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Apex Magazine, Perihelion SF, Fiction River, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including content for the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and EVE Online.

He recently returned to the U.S. from New Zealand with a couple of lovely ladies and toting more Middle Earth souvenirs than is reasonable.

You can find him on…

Twitter
Facebook
Wattpad
Goodreads
Blog
Website


Brother Bones, the Undead Avenger

Air-85It would be so nice to have a working crystal ball that could effectively predict which projects would be a success and which would be forgotten the minute after they were published. Which is to say that when creating my Brother Bones the Undead Avenger almost ten years ago, I honestly had no idea how it would be received by readers. Having gotten hooked on pulps at this time and launched our New Pulp publishing house, Airship 27 Productions, me, and Art Director Rob Davis, had agreed we’d do books on classic pulp heroes and newer characters written in the same vein.

BonesMy idea was to create a dark, tragic hero who could go toe to toe with both the Shadow and the Spider but with a supernatural twist. Thus the concept of a big city mobster who, upon being shot to death by his own twin brother, is sent back to this world by a guiding spirit to atone for all the bad things he has done while alive. That figure was Tommy Bonello and his brother was Jack Bonello. In the first tale, “The Bone Brothers,” Tommy, through a bizarre series of events, actually grows a conscience and gives up his life as a hired gunman. Fearing him to be a dangerous loose end, the Boss gives Jack the job of finding Tommy and ending his life. But here comes the real twist of the story, when Tommy’s spirit returns to the land of the living, it invades Jack’s body, effectively ending his life. Now that dead body is controlled by Tommy’s spirit…ergo, it is a zombie and wearing a white skull face mask becomes the gun blasting Undead Avenger, Brother Bones.

11110809_775668472530292_5605267081029804039_nAll of this took place in a fictional northwest metropolis I called Cape Noire. It’s a very bad place in which all manner of evil exist and is populated by some truly strange beings. None more so than Harry Beest, a one time gangster whose brain was cut out of his head and put into the body of a silverback gorilla. There were no limits to my imagination when it came to weaving Brother Bones tales. Pulp has always been about exaggerations.

The first story appeared on a website and was very well received. Which was encouraging enough for me to pen six more over the next two years. Finally, with Airship 27 up and running, we decided to bring those half dozen tales, plus a brand new one, to print in the very first volume. Rob provided both the cover painting and black and white interior illustrations. Thus was Brother Bones born.

BonesPosterEAlong about this time it was thought that a comic book adventure would make a great cross-promotional item and so I write “Bullets of Jade,” a 48 pg Brother Bones one shot that was illustrated by the stylistic John Polacek and published via Rob’s own independent comic imprint, Redbud Studio. With that out, I set about writing new short stories for what I thought at the time would be the second volume of prose adventures. What I didn’t realize was how much the first book had won over pulp fans including a very talented writer named Roman Leary. Months after its publication, Roman began corresponding with me and eventually submitted a short story for one of our Masked Rider western anthologies.

Then, while I was still writing new shorts, Roman asked if I’d be willing to allow him to write a full length Brother Bones novel. Naturally it was a surprise, albeit a pleasant one, to know someone else was that into what I’d created. Initially I had my doubts but in the end Roman convinced me by sending along a detailed plot outline which impressed the hell out of me. I relented and gave him the thumbs up. Once the novel was completed we recruited Scottish artist Rob Moran to provide the cover and interior illustrations and released, “Ron Fortier’s Brother Bones – Six Days of the Dragon.” That it became a big hit with our fans and readers came as no surprise. Roman is a gifted writer and he thoroughly had a blast handling my bizarre cast of characters.

Air-9I almost forgot. Soon after the first book’s release, Jase Marshall of Marshall Collectibles began making custom Brother Bones action figures which are amazing. Jase is a great guy and after several readers of the book wanted to commission him to do Brother Bones figures, he sought me out to get my permission, which I was only too happy to provide. Since then he’s made several versions, all of them superb.

Now we had two books and a comic and action figures out there. It was time for me to get busy again. A few months later, I’d finished the second collection of shorts and brought Rob Davis back on board to handle the interior illustrations while recruiting Pat Carbajal to do the painted cover for “Brother Bones – Tapestry of Blood.” In that particular collection we added a new member to the Cape Noire family, a sexy female vampire calling herself Sister Blood. My little pulp idea was growing every day.

That became most apparent when T Glenn Bane, the owner and manger of Scaldcrow Games came to me with the request to produce an RPG module based on my stories. Although I’d never personally been a gamer, Rob had and he found Glenn’s offer a terrific idea. So, with his urging, I agreed. Off to Kickstarter they went and within a few months had completed a successful campaign to produce “Ron Fortier’s Cape Noire,” a model that will play with many popular pulp-related games. October of this year is the set date of release.

At which point, if you are the guy who started all this, you have to start wondering, “What next?” More stories of course and hopefully more comics. I mean, what else haven’t we covered? And of course ask that question of the universe and it has a funny way of answering. This time in the form of another request concerning Brother Bones. This one from two young filmmakers from Seattle, Erik Franklin and Daniel Husser, wanting to know if I would let them make a small budget, independent Brother Bones movie! After I picked myself off the floor, I fired back a reply asking to know a lot more about this offer. All which led to a conference call between the three of us and then later with Rob sitting in.

aircornerSo here’s the scoop on the Brother Bones movie-in-the-making. It is based on the very first two Brother Bones stories from book one; “The Bone Brothers” and “Shield and Fang.” I, along with Erik Franklin, wrote the story and then Erik used that as the basis for the finished shooting script. The film will be shot entirely in Seattle, and unlike the big Hollywood studios, I’ve have final say on all aspects of the production, particularly in casting and story. Both Erik and Daniel are huge Bones fans and dedicated to bringing these wild stories to the screen the way I wrote them. Note, though I doubt the finished movie will ever play in theaters, they are in the midst of negotiation a really great contract with a well respected video distributor so that DVD copies will most likely end up in major retail chains ala Walmart and Target when done. And the possibility exist for sales to cable companies. Am I excited? Oh, yeah, in fact when principle photography begins, I’ll most likely fly out to Seattle to meet with the cast and do a Stan Lee style cameo. I mean, who would want to pass up such a chance to be in a movie based on something one created? As of now the boys are in pre-production and Rob has lent a hand doing character sketches which will aid in both casting the right actors and costuming, as this is a 1930s period piece.

576798_3698421172113_1108190359_nAnd as if that wasn’t enough, I spent the last two weeks adapting Erik’s shooting script into a 130 pg graphic novel I hope to sell to a comic outfit. All fingers crossed.

And that, my pulp loving friends, is where we are at today. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve been able to keep folks updated on all things Bones, he even has his own FB page, so please, feel free to drop by and sign on. The more the merrier. It’s been a wild ride so far and there doesn’t seem to be any slowing down any time soon.

Remember how I started all this. Long, long ago, I wrote the Green Hornet series for Now Comics and it launched my writing career. Whereas thirty years later, it remains the one property I am known for. Not a bad thing by any means. But maybe that is all going to change now. The next time my name pops up in fan conversations, they might be saying, “Ron Fortier…didn’t he create Brother Bones?” Damn, but I like the sound of that.

Cap (2)

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Ron Fortier