A hub for the "Book of Masks" universe.
"The Book of Masks" : A high school student discovers a grimoire that can make magical disguises.
"The Wandering Stars" : Sequel to "The Book of Masks."
"Student Bodies" : A high school student is turned into a blue goo that can possess people.
For non-WdC Members
"The Book of Masks: Archives" : Dodges the "Servers Busy" barrier!
"The Book of Masks (Abridged)" : Introductory storylines for new readers.
"BoM/TWS Message Forum" : Community for readers of the interactives.
"BoM/TWS/SB Wiki" : Notes and documentation for authors. Spoilers!
"BoM Poll: The Doppelganger Conspiracy"
12/17: Interactive: "Ready Player One"
12/17: Public: "Ready Player One"
|* Interactive: "A Chill in the Air"
* Public: "A Chill in the Air"
That chapter brings this branch to a halt. There are actually two more chapters, but they go with each of the choices, and neither of them seemed very compelling when I reread them, so I'm not going to post either of them. Truth to tell—as I confess in "Commentary: "Betrayals, Backstabs, and Possible Boyfriends"" —I didn't find this branch very compelling as I reread it. I hope it amused readers more than it amused me, because that wouldn't be hard to do.
Tomorrow I return to an area that hasn't been touched since ... Oh, gosh, around about the time that BoM started being posted? Okay, it got touched a few years ago, when I sent a bunch of chapters to the Non-Canonical BoM, but it's a place that hasn't been looked at since I introduced it at the very start of this whole thing.
As "The Man in the Wheelchair" opens, Will has decided to get rid of the book, and decides to see if he can interest his next-door neighbor. And that is all that is going on—this is literally "Chapter Two" stuff.
The chapter linked above is a new version of what was originally there, so even if you remember Andrew and his wheelchair, you should probably go read it. I'll pick things up from there tomorrow.
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|For the most part I've been keeping up with publishing schedules, but I've been completely ignoring everything else. Part of this is another BoM enthusiasm crash I've been trying to manage, and part of it is because of a recent fascination with other things. I tend to plunge down rabbit holes when I trip over an interesting one, and lately I've gotten fixated on box-office statistics.
If you pay even a small amount of attention to the movies, you'll know that theatrical box office hasn't exactly recovered from the Recent Unpleasantness, and over the last few weeks I've gotten weirdly interested in quantifying the damage. This has involved pulling together box office data from over the last thirty years to examine trends and construct base lines. I've discovered all sorts of little tidbits along the way. For instance, did you know that:
* Year in and year out, no matter how many movies are released, the top 200 movies always account for 98% to 99% of the box office. In 2019, for instance, the top 200 movies generated 97.9% of box office revenues, leaving the other 910 movies released that year to fight it out for the remaining 2.1%. And the top 100 movies regularly generate 90% of ticket sales. This means that approximately 85% of movies released in given year will perform "below average."
* The major studios (and their art-house divisions) never release more than 15% of all movies in a given year, but routinely capture 80% (or more) of the box office.
* In 1990, only 16% of the box office went to "franchise films" (sequels, remakes, reboots, "cinematic universes," etc.). By 2019, that percentage had risen to 61%.
* Typically, a major studio will release 20 to 25 movies a year. Typically, half of its box office gross will come from just four of those movies. And typically its single best-performing movie will account for 20% of its box office.
* Wanna play like you're a movie mogul? Shuffle a regulation deck and "buy" twenty cards (face down) from it for $100. Roll two die and add that amount to the $100 spend. Then, for each number card (2 through 10) in your twenty-card hand collect $3. For each jack in your hand collect $8; for each queen collect $10; for each king collect $15; for each ace collect $30. This, approximately, is the kind of gamble a studio chief faces each time he assembles a slate of movies.
* The Recent Unpleasantness may have kicked the struts out from under the movie business, but those struts have been wobbly for some time. Sure, US-Canadian box office receipts rose 24% between 2002 and 2019, but ticket sales fell 22%, and the rate of movie-going (the number of times the average US-Canadian goes to the movies in a year) fell 31% during the same time frame. In fact, in 2019 the rate of movie-going (3.78 times a year) was lower than had ever been recorded. Put it this way: people probably went to the movies more often back when Germany had a Kaiser than they did the year that "Avengers: Endgame" came out.
* As for how bad the damage has been to the domestic box office: We won't have official numbers until January 1, when the last of the holiday would-be-blockbusters have opened and the books on the year can be closed, but at the moment things are on track to a $7 billion box office. That would be down almost 40% from 2019 (the last pre-pandemic year), and if you factor in ticket-price inflation, it's closer to a 50% drop. Pretty scary, considering that theaters are supposed to be fully open and unrestricted. Not even during the Great Depression did movie theaters experience such a high-to-low contraction.
Anyway, that's what I've been doing. I think I've gathered and saved up most of the data I've been seeking, so now I'm going to try catching up around here.
* Interactive: "Class and Cluelessness"
* Public: "Class and Cluelessness"
—are part of a branch that was written for a commission. I composed it in a weird way. I started with the idea, then fed the buyer one chapter at a time, each time asking which choice to take at the end. It breaks off kind of abruptly here because the buyer decided he wanted to back up to an earlier chapter and take an alternate path. I'll be coming back to this area soon, continuing with that alternate path, but for now I'm going to break away and pick up another branch. Commentary thread on this branch is here: "Commentary: "A Dopey Trade""
Tomorrow, the story brings the Will-Chelsea partnership back with "Finding Mr. Right" . (That chapter will be new to those who don't follow the interactive.) Will sold the book to Caleb, who then lost it to Gordon and Chelsea. Gordon managed to golemize himself, and Chelsea has called Will in to help. The relationship has developed from there, with Will taking Yumi Saito's place in order to help Chelsea with her schemes; and because Chelsea and Yumi can't be seen talking to each other, they've decided to get Yumi (Will) a boyfriend. This is the fork where Chelsea starts impersonating Gary Chen, but tomorrow a different choice will be made.
|I had a dental appointment yesterday, and then some other stuff that had doing, so I missed publishing. I'm making up for it today with two chapters. And something actually happens in one of them!
* Interactive: "An Overwhelming Question"
* Public: "An Overwhelming Question"
—brings the current branch to a climax, and boy that's a cliffhanger if ever I saw one. And that's where it's going to have to stay for awhile, until I return to writing BoM instead of just publishing from the backlog. But for now, suffice it to say this has encompassed part of a commission, and in order to fulfill that commission I'm going to have to continue it at some point, so you won't be left hanging forever.
Commentary continues here: "Commentary: "The Mystery Box""
Tomorrow brings the start of a different commission, one that picks up with "A Clash of Values" . Will has taken the book in to the school to deposit it inside the time capsule, but some of the other students at school have gotten a look at it and seem to be interested in buying it. He also ran into a couple of guys—Marc Garner, Spencer Osbourne, and Steven Buckner—who've given him the idea of trading the book for a couple of joints, and he could put those in the time capsule instead. That's what he's decided to do. But now he has to find someone to make a trade with.
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|Yesterday and the day before were a little weird, so there weren't two chapters. I'm making up a little for the shortfall by publishing two chapters today.
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* Interactive: "Adding a Third"
* Public: "Adding a Third"
—wraps up a branch just as it's about to get complicated. I've got an idea for how it's going to continue, though, and it's going to veer into an unexpected direction when I return to it. Commentary thread: "Commentary: "Scheming Big""
Next up, a continuation of something more recent: "The Games That Some Girls Play" . Will has lost the book and all his gear, and has no idea how it vanished. He has suspicions but no evidence about how it all was stolen, and maybe he doesn't care, for he has lately been distracted by friendly attention from an unexpected direction: Stephanie Wyatt. The last chapter ended with her even inviting him out to a party, which isn't the kind of thing she has ever done before.
* Interactive: "Home Sweet Hollywood"
* Public: "Home Sweet Hollywood"
—finally gets Will and Sydney to Hollywood, where they are laying plans for adding another industry person to their burgeoning coven. A commentary post is in the forums here:
What's next? The exit of Chelsea Cooper "... And the Entrance of a Better One"
Will and Caleb have been playing around with masks. Will was using a mask of Caleb to flirt with Eva Garner, to try setting the two of them up, but then got crossways with Chelsea. She sent Gordon to beat up Will, and when all was said and done, Gordon was trapped in a mask of Will, Dane Matthias was trapped in a mask of Gordon, and Chelsea was trapped in a mask of Dane. And where was Will? He was now pretending to be Chelsea Cooper! And he had just decided to turn her into a better person!
But there are still a lot of dicks at the school, so it's not like being a "better" Chelsea will make much of a difference. So Will is wondering if maybe he should make some other substitutions.
This was the first branch I wrote when I came back from my mega-hiatus, and it dives into the kind of story that later (though published earlier) got a much longer exploration in the Doppelganger Conspiracy, so what comes next will be like a premature return to and reset of that, just in another branch.
Lastly, I need to catch up on the "Gratuities and Gratitudes." Easy seemed to like the Hollywood branch, because he sent me a bunch of GPs, and I thank him for them.
|After a two-week interruption in the middle, the line of chapter that started with "A Reunion of Fakes" concludes:
* Interactive: "Den of the Body Thief"
* Public: "Den of the Body Thief"
Whatever I have to say about it is in the Commentary thread: "Commentary: "A Reunion of Fakes""
Next up: We've seen quite a bit of Chelsea Cooper lately. Is anybody up for seeing more of Sydney McGlynn? Starting tomorrow I'll pick up where "The Actors' Studio" left off.
Sydney and Will are planning to form a cult by turning people into golems. In most of the branches in this area, that means victimizing people in Saratoga Falls. But in this branch they've gotten ambitious and have decided to take the act to Hollywood. Will has already got himself a body that's already there: that of a thirty-something washed-up TV actor who has returned to Saratoga Falls to meet a daughter he never knew he had by his old drama teacher. But how is Sydney going to get out to Los Angeles? And are they going to take anyone else out there with them?
Okay, yeah, so I disappeared for two weeks. Nothing huge, but there was some stuff going on that made it hard to post or visit. Appointments, favors, errands, just a lot of little shit, all hitting at exactly the hours of the day that ruined things for me. Was it 14 solid days of it? No, but something would happen every few days, and when I was out the other side of one commitment I'd see something coming up in a day or two that I knew would ruin things again. It just seemed easier to step away completely and let the storms blow over.
I'm actually back earlier than I thought I'd be. Originally I had a weekend commitment that was going to keep my sidelined, but it got cancelled at the last minute yesterday afternoon. So here I am, picking things up where I last left off:
* Interactive: "The Face Factory"
* Public: "The Face Factory"
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|I have sixteen chapters written in this branch, but I'm going to break off here with—
* Interactive: "The Games That Some Girls Play"
* Public: "The Games That Some Girls Play"
—for the time being. There have been no masking shenanigans, and Will seems to have even forgot about the book. So what's going on? I'll leave that to you guys to speculate about: "Commentary: "The Mystery Box""
* * *
Tomorrow brings a return to another section that hasn't gotten any love in awhile, though it's a lot more recent than the above. It starts at "Magic on the Loose?"
Will's life has gotten very complicated. Or perhaps I should say that his lives have gotten complicated. Buckle up, because there's a lot to review.
It started when he and Caleb teamed up to play with the book. They started off making masks of each other, and swapped places for a few days. But Will lipped off to Chelsea Cooper, and in order to avoid being murdered by Chelsea's thuggish boyfriend, he swapped places with said boyfriend, Gordon Black. That didn't work out so hot, because he didn't have Gordon's memories or ability on the basketball court, so he moved Gordon's mask onto that cheerful stoner, Dane Matthias, and took Dane's place. That too led to unexpected quandaries after he accidentally pissed off the drug dealers in Dane's life.
Before all was said and done, Will had exposed the magic to a group of sophomores. One of them, Lindsay Cho, was determined to destroy all the magic, but the others want to play with the masks. Will has secretly gotten rid of Lindsay and has been impersonating her while Caleb is impersonating a sophomore named Michael Duncan, so that they can also hang out with their new partners. Meanwhile, the sophomores have all decided to move up two grades by stealing the identities of some people in the senior class; Will and Caleb will go with them, into new identities of their own.
The latest complication has come swinging in from Eastman High School. Two of the basketball players from that school, Frank and Joe Durras, have switched over to Westside, and that set off a reorganization of the basketball squad, with some of the players being tossed off it to make room for the Durras boys. And also for "Will Prescott"—really Gordon Black—who also tried out and surprised everyone by being really good, but that's more or less just a bit of gossip.
Frank and Joe Durras would be plausible and popular impersonations for Will and Caleb, because (as Caleb put it) "the school's already losing its shit over them." But there's another reason to impersonate them: They are interested in why Gordon Black (who is really Dane, and has turned into the kind of cheerful stoner that Dane was) got tossed off the basketball squad, and something he has told them has sent them to talk to Dane Matthias. "Dane" is a golem under Will's control, so he naturally told them nothing. But some pretty strange stuff happened during that interview, which might bear investigation.
The branch continued from there, with Will and Caleb shying away from the Durras boys. But tomorrow will bring a divergence, where Will (at least) decides that maybe Frank and Joe should no longer be themselves, and that he and Caleb should get to be them instead.
|Well, I told you this was going to be a short run, and here's the last chapter in it:
* Interactive: "The Girl in the Palm of Your Hand"
* Public: "The Girl in the Palm of Your Hand"
Separately, I've posted an almost content-less "Commentary" thread in the forums about this branch: "Commentary: "Of Paralysis and Procrastination"" Why?
I liked writing the commentaries on the "Doppelganger" plotline, and I liked better that it seemed to give some readers permission to ask questions and post comments of their own. So I think I'm going to start doing that from now on.
In this case I don't have much to say about this very short four-chapter branchlet, but Mia is a character that other authors have sometimes mentioned an interest in. Maybe one of them will pick it up from here, or will at least say something in the forums.
* * *
But what about tomorrow's chapter, I hear you cry.
Set the Wayback Machine for "The New Job" . Will has been experimenting with the book's spells, to the point of copying his face and mind into a blank mask, and gathering dirt for a golem. But it's expensive, and to pay for it he's taken a job at his dad's work, where he has become friendly with another Westside student who works there, Sean Mitchell.
That chapter branched in two, but I deleted one of those branches (a single chapter, actually) though I moved it to the NC-BoM interactive. But tomorrow, I'll bring it back (with some serious revision) as the start of a new branch. I was pitched a story idea, and after giving it some thought I realized that this long dormant section of BoM could be reactivated as a playground for that idea.
|It's time for another shout-out to the people who sent me GPs. Most of them came from Easy, so I offer a big, public "Thanks!" to him. But also to Wordsmitty and AstralBot3D, who said kind things about some of last month's chapters when they sent in GPs.
Also, my regular big THANK YOU to the anonymous person who keeps renewing my expensive WdC membership. I shout it out here because I don't know how to express in private how much it means to me (and, I hope, by extension) the other readers who get the benefits of letting me post more items and more complex pathways than I otherwise could.
|Today brings the end of the branch I've been working on:
* Interactive: "The Next Phase"
* Public: "The Next Phase"
As you can see, it brings things to a turning point. The first set of doppelgangers are in place; now Will is considering who to partner with in order to expand his conspiracy. The choice, though, is not about who to partner with, but who Will should pretend to be when approaching the first partner. He doesn't want to reveal his own identity, and he deems that Kim Walsh would not be plausible as a puppet-master queen, so that means he'll have to pretend to be one of the other people he has duplicated.
There's a poll to go with it: "BoM Poll: The Doppelganger Conspiracy" And though I won't promise that it's a binding poll, I am relatively indifferent between the choices—any of them, I think, would be fun to write—so I'm likely to let the readers be the tie-breakers. Because it will be weeks at least, and maybe months, before I return to this branch, I'm going to make it an open-ended poll, running until I return to writing this branch.
* * *
Meanwhile, what does tomorrow bring? An alternate sequel to "Cheerleaders and Charity" .
It's early days, and Will is looking for someone to experiment his newly made mask on. In searching the school he has gotten caught up in helping Yumi Saito with a charity drive.
This is a choice that got picked in a poll. It got continued in "A Charity Drive to Drive You Mad" , but I also promised to write a sequel to the alternative, and this is it. It actually starts with a chapter by rugal, "Assertiveness" that I will be continuing with a new chapter tomorrow.
This is going to be a very short run, only four chapters. I just kind of ran out of interest in it.
|"S02E17 "If This Be My Destiny""
As I explained a few commentaries ago, I wrote Part One of this four-part adaptation a long time ago, filed it away, and forgot about it so completely that it was entirely new when I rediscovered it. I wrote Part Two and most of Part Three back in January of 2022, but it kicked my ass so hard that I not only gave up on writing this project, I took a multi-month vacation from all writing. This September, though, I decided to finally get through Part Four. And here it is.
And this is another one where a famous Spider-Man bit gets repurposed. This idea came to me as I was writing the script, but maybe it had been percolating in the back of my mind. I knew that the rest of the season would show Gwen and Otto/Peter growing close, and the plan was for this multi-parter to bring them to a point where you could see them starting to develop a serious relationship. The scene I repurposed instantly seemed like just the kind of moment to put them onto such a path.
Otherwise, the writing of this script was another exercise in feeling my way along some dark corridors. I had to get from the initial situation to the final one; had to put in regularly punctuated crises and ramped-up stakes that were logical; and had to bring it all home by page 30. I think that's more or less what I managed. Whether it is successful is for others to say.
BTW, I have no idea if, in the animated continuity, Anya Corazon can drive, or if she is the only one old enough to drive. But it was convenient to bring her in as such.
* * *
And where do things go from here for this project? I'm not sure. The big lesson I learned is that I just don't have fun writing scripts. It took me four ugly, ugly days (including one day off in the middle to rest and recuperate) to get "If This Be My Destiny" written, and it was about the same kind of thing with the other scripts. I'm tempted to write one short treatment detailing the other nine (!) episodes I have crudely plotted out. But I'm also tempted not to, in case I get the urge to write them out in script form.
Suffice it to say this for now: The idea in those outlines (spread over nine episodes) is to try to hit the high points of the comic book "Superior Spider-Man" storyline, including the roll-out of an extreme surveillance network; tussles with the Avengers and J. Jonah Jameson; and a final battle with the Green Goblin (making his first appearance in this "alternate continuity") and ending with Otto and Peter switching back in order to beat the Goblin. But whether that plan could survive contact with the enemy (my stomach for scriptwriting) is another question.
|I was busy yesterday when publication time came around, so I just lost a day. Anyway, the next chapter is now up:
Interactive: "Three-Point Shot"
Public: "Three-Point Shot"
There's a commentary to go with it: "Re: Commentary: "Three-Point Shot""
|I'm afraid that today's chapters are short and repetitive, and the Archives readers only get one of them:
* Interactive: "Thanks Aloft" + "Student Teachers" + "Money to Make Your World Go Around"
* Public: "Thanks Aloft"
It's "Thanks Aloft" that starts the branch I'll be going down, so I don't see any point in putting the other chapters into the Archives. But I wanted to post those alternates into the BoM interactive so that the general choices would turn into specific ones. In particular, I wanted to get some of the suggested doppelgangers (like Gary Chen and Charles Hartlein) down as possibilities. I also wanted to introduce some new possibilities among the faculty members so that it wouldn't be the same old suspects always.
As I develop this branch, I'll be adding my discussion of the choices to the forum thread on Doppelgangers. Today's post is here: "Re: Commentary: "Thanks Aloft""
EDIT: The runaway winner in the poll was to replace a faculty member, so I went ahead and took it down. I'm not going to put up a poll about today's chapter choices, because there's only two and I don't foresee much excitement there. When things evolve to make another choice, then I'll put up another poll.
|As promised, today brings a return to "Corporate Strategies" , and Will's plot to dominate the school by duplicating and replacing key people.
* Interactive: "A Battle Plan Begins"
* Public: "A Battle Plan Begins"
I planned this branch out before asking for ideas in the forum—"Doppelganger: The War Game" —and I certainly don't say it's the best or smartest path. It's just the one I wrote.
Still, I'm all up for second-guessing. So in addition to that forum post, I've put up a poll to see what choices others would make:
[Poll completed and deleted]
That is NOT a poll asking which path you want me to take; the path I'm taking is already written. I'm just giving readers who did not make a post in the forums a chance to register their thoughts, given the choices presented. There's no set time limit on that poll, but it will probably be open for two days. Don't send GPs voting for a choice: As I say, it's just to get the readers' thoughts on what they would do in Will's place.
|Today brings the last chapter in the Round Robin.
* Interactive: "Wrapping the Present"
* Public: "Wrapping the Present"
I really liked this branch, and IMO at least, I think we brought out the best in each other. At least, I think Nostrum and rugal brought out the best in me. I wasn't even that enthusiastic about continuing this branch, and was bowled over by the invention and ingenuity the other two brought to it, and from which I derived all the inspiration I ultimately had for it.
Tomorrow, for my part, I will be returning to the branch that I had been working on before we did the Round Robin, the one that ends with "Corporate Strategies" .
That is the branch where Will conceives a scheme for manipulating the school body by replacing certain key people with doppelgangers under his control, and it inspired two threads in the forums: "Doppelganger: The War Game" and "Corporate Partnerships in Magic" . I had already war-gamed out my own answers to the first question before I even posted those threads, and the branch will show the plan I came up with, but I paid close attention to the answers given by other people, and tried to build in choices that would let those alternate ideas develop. So although this branch is not going to be poll-driven, it does rely on public feedback.
|"S02E16 "The Hero or the Menace""
This is part three of a four-part story arc, one that basically does the same job as the three-issue "Dying Wish" story arc in "The Amazing Spider-Man": swapping Otto Octavius and Peter Parker, and explaining how Otto comes to adopt something like the ideals and personality of the original Parker. But when you get to the end of this one, long-time Spider-Man fans will recognize that I cribbed most of the story from a different place in the issue run.
Okay, spoiler warning. Go read the script if you don't want things spoiled any more for you.
Are you back? Okay.
This was actually one of the first ideas I had when I sat down to outline this multi-parter. Issues 32 - 33 of "The Amazing Spider-Man" are one of the most famous in the continuity -- lots of comic creators have said it was the storyline that got them firmly hooked on the title when they were kids -- and I saw a way of taking it and turning it to my advantage in my adaptation.
Because the fact is that I don't feel like "Dying Wish" does a good job of motivating Doc Ock to pick up Spider-Man's mantle. Sure, the story says that he's influenced by the residual memories and personality he inherited with Peter Parker's body, but anyone can invent any "reason" for a personality change. The really believable personality change has to come from external and internal pressures that explain why a personality can change and adapt.
By repurposing a famous story -- one that puts Aunt May in danger while Spider-Man and Doc Ock battle -- I thought I could show Otto expressing legit concern for his new relatives, and that would show that he could and would try to fulfill Spider-Man's responsibilities instead of giving them up.
And, yes, there would be an extra twist of irony that in this adaptation the roles of Spidey and Doc Ock are swapped from what they were in the original story.