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!
1/21: Interactive: "Two Virgins Walk Into the Warehouse"
1/21: Public: "Two Virgins Walk Into the Warehouse"
10/5: Masktrix [BoM] "A moment’s reflection"
4/4: Archives: "The Magician's House" --> "New Information" --> "More Tricks of the Trade"
|Latest BoM chapters are now up:
Interactive: "Two Virgins Walk Into the Warehouse"
Public: "Two Virgins Walk Into the Warehouse"
Poll: Completed and deleted
Meanwhile, I am really enjoying my new computer. The hassle of setting it up (and even the continuing hassle with the Bluetooth mouse) was really worth it.
|So here we are, back to where we were a week ago. I thank you all for your patience:
Interactive: "Bridges to a Brotherhood"
Public: "Bridges to a Brotherhood"
Poll: [Completed and deleted]
To recap, what’s the plan going forward?
In this branch, there is today’s chapter, and then there will be two more. They will be interspersed with three more “Student Body” chapters. After that, I have three more commissions to fulfill. Assuming no other problems, and assuming I’ve counted out the number of chapters correctly, I will have chapters to publish through February 15.
So we’re not going to run out any time soon.
|So I hope this is the last of the computer updates. Where things stand:
1. Mac side of the new machine is completely updated and backed up. Windows side is installed and all new and replacement games downloaded. As I was typing in this update I got a reply to a forum post I had made, informing me that there was no fix for the last item on my checklist, so that closes the last ticket on the updates.
2. The mouse is still being finicky, but I think I have found a way to manage it. Basically, every time I boot up, I have to delete the mouse from the Bluetooth control panel, and let it and the computer find and re-pair each other. Bleh, but that's the worst that can be said.
3. There is no third item in this update.
4. I still have to rewrite the one chapter that I lost in the game crash. I made a start on it yesterday, but it will be this afternoon before I get back to it. Look for regular posting, writing, publishing, etc., to resume tomorrow.
|So a couple of days Tal asked:
"[What were the] creative origins of your writing the BoM all those years ago. What gave you the idea to create this world and it’s magic? What were some of your inspirations? I know you’ve mentioned in the past you use it as a writing tool to explore different characters, but I think it could be interesting to hear how you came up with it all."
I meant to answer it earlier, but my computer exploded. Now, with nothing else to do while waiting for some downloads to finish it, I can answer.
Not that there's a whole lot to say, I think. It developed in dribs and drabs.
I found WdC a long time ago--longer than I'd care to think--and found one of the body-swap interactives; I forget the name, but it was already a big one. I'll confess to liking body-swap stories and their variants, and I also liked interactive stories, so I registered at WdC and started adding chapters to … whatever it was called. [EDIT: CCRFan1 identifies it "Body swap etc. collection" No, don't go looking for my chapters in there.]
I really liked the consequence-free liberty of adding chapters to interactives--I could just make stuff up without worrying that it was going in any particular direction or toward any kind of climax. But what started as a larf quickly got more ambitious and complicated. I found I liked writing chapters with the heft and detail of actual fiction. I liked making up characters, and immersing myself in their situations. I liked motivating the shenanigans and not just reporting on them.
I eventually found a similar interactive, the "The Body Possession Powers" interactive, which had a more ambitious hook and richer setting, so I started writing for it. Eventually I decided that I wanted to write my own interactive, my own version of BPP using the mechanics and setting and characters, so with the original author's permission I launched "Student Bodies."
I had fun with "Student Bodies," but I soon ran into the problem that David was just too overpowered, and though I had some fun inventing some challenges for him, I soon got worn out by it. I decided to start a new interactive, from scratch, where I could set up the mechanics. I intentionally wanted them to be limited, as that would give the "hero" more of a challenge. I also wanted a structure that would allow for more variation. The trick I hit on: to go modular.
That's why the "Libra" has the structure that it does, of bits and pieces that must be made, and used, then assembled into more complex pieces. Instead of an hero instantly armed with some powerful magic tech, he starts with limited powers that are a challenge to deploy. A mask may give a perfect disguise, but it bestows no memories or personality traits. A memory-band can confer memories and traits, but not the body. A full mask can create a perfect impersonation, but how do you get the original out of the way? And so on.
I mentioned that first interactive (whatever its name was) up above because that's where I found the setting and characters for BoM. It was set at a "Westside High" (though I think I came up with "Saratoga Falls" myself) and Chelsea Cooper, Gordon Black, Jason Lynch, Steve Patterson, Jenny Ashton, Yumi Saito, Paul Davis, and Carson Ioeger were characters either established in it or which I added to it myself. (James Lamont was the protagonist.) There were probably some others that I'm forgetting. I also brought over the Eastman characters from "Student Bodies" so that I'd have a large cast to work with. Will Prescott and Caleb and Keith were IIRC original-to-BoM additions.
Some of the characters are based on people I know. Carson and Caleb are a thinly disguised version of someone I knew in high school who was exactly the kind of science-fascinated asshole who would have used the BoM masks to get in lots of trouble. Kelsey Blankenship is a girl I knew in college. Several other people are composed of traits of people I've known, in some cases shuffled and recombined. Most of them, in truth, are stereotypes inspired by selfies found online, and some (like Chelsea) are based on stereotypes, period.
Frank and Joe Durras deserve special mention, even though I know those killjoys are not the most popular with readers. I think I've said it before, probably lots of times, but they just burst into the story. As their names attest, they were inspired by the Hardy Boys. I never liked the Hardy Boys books when I was a kid--they were far too tame, too boring--but I was reading one for research while writing BoM and wondering how to make it better. Meanwhile, I was also trying to come up with an antagonist for Will, someone who could come find him instead of being (like Blackwell) someone who he would have to find. I got the idea of adding some Hardy Boys clones to BoM--it seemed like a fun, silly idea--and I also got the idea of turning the Technicolor way up on them so that they had some personality. Does this make it sound like I planned them? One might as well try to plan a Bandersnatch …
I had no idea who they were, but I liked them, and at least one other reader liked them--I got an email demanding to know who they were and when they were going to come back. But I held off on it. They felt special and I didn't want to screw them up. I knew I needed a story for them.
At first I had the idea that they'd just be affiliated with the Church, like the Inquisition, but that didn't make them enough of a challenge, I felt. I decided they needed to be "magical" themselves somehow. But I felt like they needed a "system" behind them, otherwise they would develop too arbitrarily.
I found the system, by happenstance, in "Planet Narnia," which is a scholarly interpretation of the Narnia books. It argues that C. S. Lewis wrote them according to a pattern: each book reflects the spirit of one of the astrological planets, which in classical philosophy had their own virtues and personalities. Jupiter, for instance, was the kingly planet; Mars was the martial planet; the Sun was the planet of science and knowledge and exploration; etc. So that's where I got the idea of keying Frank and Joe to the planets. I had to sweat out some theory after the fact, but just knowing which planets each one had was enough to give me a non-arbitrary way of developing their personalities and powers.
There's lots more "magical science" that has shown up just the Libra and the astrology, but it's just a bastardization of pre-modern science, particularly Aristotle and alchemy. The various distinctions of anima and essentia and the rest, which show up in some of the really advanced chapters, are just variations on Aristotelean notions like substance, form, essence, and so on. The science of taking these apart is just a thinly disguised alchemical theory, which promised to do the same sort of thing with the Aristotelean categories. (An alchemist is not trying to "turn" lead into gold. He's trying to separate the "leaden" qualities from the underlying substance and replace them with "golden" qualities, in much the way you might strip and replace wallpaper.) If it looks complicated, it is, but that's not because I'm ingenious at inventing it. It's because Aristotle and his followers were ingenious. I'm just tracking them.
I'm not sure what else to say. To repeat, it's all just a lot of dribs and drabs that I improvised as needed while making stuff up.
EDIT: WordSmitty points out that BoM actually launched before Student Bodies. Now I do have a vague memory of that. I remember writing the first chapter (and maybe the first few) and then getting stuck because I had no characters except Will and Caleb and The Molester. So I guess I had the idea for a piece-by-piece mechanic early on, but then dropped it for a BPP remake (aka Student Bodies) because there was an established universe to play with. I would hazard (and this is just a hypothesis) that after I got frustrated with SB I decided to return to BoM and import the Body Swap Etc. characters in order to jump start it.
|While I'm waiting for Windows 10 to download** I've nothing else to do, so for the record and for whatever it's worth, the short version of my computer travails:
My old machine is a MacBook Pro that was cutting edge when it was brand-new ... 10 years ago. It's given me great service in all that time, even as it has gradually devolved from a very sharp knife to a very starchy potato. I first realized it had to be replaced when I found that it had fallen four operating systems out of date, and that its architecture was incompatible with all of them. I second realized it had to be replaced when the keys started falling off it.
So I saved up money, and last week put in an order for a new MacBook Pro—the latest and sharpest knife in the drawer.
I was waiting for it to be delivered when my old computer had a nervous breakdown.
Never mind the details, except to say that I had to force-quit when the machine froze, and it started spewing code like it was pea-green vomit when it restarted.
Technically and literally, I have no idea what happened or why it chose this moment to happen. Figuratively, I don't know if my old machine realized it was being replaced and spitefully killed itself early, or whether it joyfully relaxed it grip on the material plane when to its relief it saw that I no longer needed it.
I am going to take the old machine to the Mac doctor to see if it can be salvaged. There is nothing wrong with the machine itself (aside from age, a busted DVD drive, and loose keys), because it was only the Mac installation that exploded; the Windows installation works fine. If the expense isn't too great, I will keep the old machine around as a spare.
My thanks to all who expressed sympathy with my computer problems.
** Yes, I'm downloading Windows onto a Mac. I'm using Bootcamp to put in a parallel Windows installation for gaming.
|New computer arrived a day early (though late in the day) and I am currently setting it up with the back up from my old machine. I will have some other setting up tomorrow but I hope to resume on Saturday everything that I left off.
EDIT: Update to update. The backup transferred everything over okay (it appears) and I'm typing this from the new computer. So now it's just a matter of updating various programs and finishing the set up, which will be my project for tomorrow.
EDITx2, UPDATEx3: The bad news is that Microsoft wants $70 a year to let me use MS Word on my new computer. The good news is that Apple's Pages program will let me open up my old Word documents, so I think I'll be able to give Bill Gates the finger he so richly deserves.
|My current computer is bricked and the new one will not be here until Friday. With set up etc, I will not be able to write or post before Sunday at the earliest. I believe I have only lost one chapter in the crash and nothing else of any importance to anything else, so I am grumpy but not distraught.
|I am having serious problems with my computer and don’t know when I will be back to posting chapters. (I am tapping this note in on my phone.) I do have a new machine coming this weekend so this isn’t a long term issue but until it is set up or the old one decides to play again I won’t be able to post.
I do have a very recent back up so at worst I will only have lost today’s chapter as I have been writing one at a time this week rather than batches.
|New SB chapter: "Totally Drama" Yes, I'm later on posting SB chapters than BoM chapters, because on SB days I'm waiting for the BoM poll to close.
Speaking of which, the "Expand the cult" choice won yesterday's poll. It was the runaway leader for most of the day, but the other choice came from behind and almost tied at the very end. Some not-so-hefty GP votes might have tipped it the other way at the last minute.
Plans: The link above is to the third in what is a six-chapter SB commission. I'm going to continue the current BoM branch, alternating with SB chapters, until I finish the SB commission. So Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday will bring BoM chapters and polls, and Wednesday, Friday and Sunday will bring SB chapters. New BoM branch—another commission—will start a week from today.
|Never watch clips from a shitty straight-to-DVD movie before sitting down to write. It will nuke your self-confidence.
EDIT: And while I wait for today's poll to close, here's today's chapter in "Student Bodies": "Field Goals"
EDIT x2: ... And the poll is closed. "Keep Kelly as a cultist" wins.
|Today's chapter picks up where BoM left off last time:
Interactive: "A Conundrum Called Kelly"
Public: "A Conundrum Called Kelly"
It ends with a choice, and I'm leaving it to you guys to pick it: [Poll completed and deleted]
Tomorrow there will be another chapter in "Student Bodies."
|The poll was pretty close for most of the day, but "Just cruise as Kelly" finally broke out to win decisively. There were also a couple of GP votes for it, so the result wasn't even close. I'll get to work on the sequel after posting this note, so I can publish it tomorrow.
Meantime, here's a new "Student Bodies" chapter: "A School Survey" .
|Today's chapter is up:
Interactive: "The Kid Sister"
Public: "The Kid Sister"
The sequel won't appear until Friday at the earliest, because readers get to vote on what the sequel will be: [Poll completed and deleted]
A quick note on the "Start a plan" choice: Though the chapter ends with Will/Kelly thinking about guys he could get Kelly in trouble with, there will be opportunities for other plans. Earlier in the chapter, for instance, he briefly wonders what Blake would think (likely nothing good) if Kelly showed up at the Warehouse. So there are a number of plans that Will could come up with, not only those he's thinking about at the end of the chapter. If "Start a plan" gets chosen, readers will have a say in which plan gets adopted.
Tomorrow, to keep the flow of new material coming, there will be a sequel in "Student Bodies," to "The Many Faces of You"
|Today brings the conclusion of the most recent storyline. Tomorrow I resume the branch I anticipated last week: "Girls, In and Out of Character"
But it's not going to proceed in a straight line this time, either.
Tomorrow's chapter will end in a "Continued," but the chapter after that will end with a choice, and I've decided to run a poll there. In fact, I'm going to run a poll each time that we hit a choice in that branch. And that means that I won't be able to publish every day because I'll have to skip some days while waiting for the poll results.
You'll still be getting new content, though. One of my commissions is to continue a branch in "Student Bodies," and the day after I post a poll I will publish a "Student Bodies" chapter instead. I figure that SB is different enough from BoM that it won't be disorienting for daily readers to flip between them. And it won't last long. I only plan on writing six more sequels to "Girls, In and Out of Character," and at most four of them will get polls.
|I wrote the following in reply to something that a correspondent wrote in an email—that correspondent can out himself in the comments if he wants—and decided to post it in the blog, as it might be of mild interest to my readers by shedding light on where I like to work in BoM, and why.
... For me it's not a matter of having a "wheelhouse," or of having characters or groups that I feel more comfortable writing. (Though I am more comfortable with some than with others.) If I stick to certain branches and arenas (like those I'm currently working in) and avoid returning to old ones, it's more likely because I am creatively "done" with them.
Preface to help clarify what follows:
Robert Heinlein (I have read) wrote story drafts that resembled interactives. That is, he would improvise his stories, writing "what happened next" until he hit a cul-de-sac out of which he could not think his way. Then, instead of abandoning the story or starting over, he would back up to the point where (he felt) it had gone wrong, and strike out in a new direction. Again, from that divergent point, he would improvise until he hit a cul-de-sac. And again, he would back up to find another point for a divergence, and plunge onward again.
And so forth and on, until he finally hit the words "The End."
So (if I understand this right) if you laid out the complete set of drafts for one of his novels, you would get a structure like BoM, with a single long trunk extending from first chapter to last, and a lot of branches shooting off it (and shooting off each other) terminating with unresolved, alternate plots.
Back on topic:
BoM is not and never will be a novel. It is a playground (for me, at least), but I think my creative brain does its stuff by striving to create coherent, first-to-last storylines. Every once in a while it succeeds. The first time was with the branch where Will went to work for Blackwell, met Frank and Joe, had to fight an anima-possessed Frank, and ended up joining the Stellae. [Terminal chapter: "New Spells, and a New Complication" ] The second time was a sequel to that story, where Will trained in Los Angeles with Kali while having adventures in London, Saratoga Falls, and Cuthbert. [Terminal chapter: "Christmas Spirits" ] There are other places that also have something like a beginning-middle-end.
I never return to these areas. I have no interest in returning to them. I'm not interested in finding out what alternate thing happens if Will apprentices himself to Blackwell, then meets Frank and Joe, because I've told a story where that happens, and I'm happy with the way it turns out. It feels finished.
Well, that's one reason I don't return to an area. The other reason is that I just get frustrated with it and abandon it as unprofitable. That's much more common.
If I'm playing around lots (at this time) with Will and Sydney, with Will and the sophomores, and with Will and the YouTube crew, it's because I'm not frustrated with them yet; but also because I've not stumbled onto a complete "story" yet either. Will I find one? I've no idea. But I'm having fun until I do—or until I'm not having fun anymore.
Am I "more comfortable" with these characters, these groups, these areas? Rather the opposite, I think. I'm dissatisfied with them, because they haven't reached a state of completion, but I'm not so dissatisfied that I want to chuck the whole thing and go look for something else to do.
|So, is this the day that I'm supposed to announce my plan for the year? Do I even have a plan for the year?
Last year I broke my writing schedule up into monthly jobs: one month of writing BoM, and two months writing other kinds of fiction. It didn't work out as well as I would have liked, but I did manage to write one novel, and to fuss around with some other stuff.
I'd like to do something similar this year—and I'd like to work some more on those half-finished projects—but I think I want to break the year up up into shorter increments. One of the problems last time, I think, was that the blocs of time were too big. I didn't even write as much BoM as I wanted to or could have, because I didn't have the enthusiasm to fill a whole month with it. For the other projects it was even worse. Some of those two-month blocs felt like an endless desert, empty of feature and enervating to the spirit.
So this year I'm going to be more flexible, both in plan and in spirit. I am still going to plan things out in blocs, but I'm going to make the blocs smaller and I'm not going to designate them or their contents until I'm ready to turn to them. That way (I hope) I can stretch out writing cycles that are being productive, and can shut them off when I feel my attention or interest flagging badly.
* * *
And since today is the first of the year, I suppose I'd better get started.
So I hereby declare the first fifteen days of January (at least) to be a BoM-writing period. I have one branch that I promised you guys I would write, and I also have two commissions to fulfill. That's about sixteen chapters I still have to write, which is easily doable in fifteen days. And there are two other people I've heard from who have said they are interested in commissioning stuff from me; if they set something up with me within the next two weeks, I might make all of January a BoM project.
* * *
In the meantime, two other pieces of business. First, the new chapter:
Interactive: "Magic on the Loose?"
Public: "Magic on the Loose?"
Second, the polls results.
"Kelly O'Brien" and "One of Bridget's girlfriends" were neck and neck all through the voting. But although "Bridget's girlfriends" won the Free Vote, a largish GP vote came in for "Kelly O'Brien" that tipped the victory the other way. So that's the chapter that I will write and publish. My thanks to everyone who voted and played.
|Yesterday's poll is still running—[Poll completed and deleted]—and will run through tomorrow. As I write this, one of the choices has a slim lead in the "free" votes, but the race is close enough that GPs could tilt the outcome.
In the meantime, on to the branch that I intended to start publishing yesterday:
Interactive: "Some Suspect Behavior by Sophomores and Seniors"
Public: "Some Suspect Behavior by Sophomores and Seniors"
Background: Will and Caleb have moved down into the sophomore class, where they have been helping some geeky guys infiltrate the more popular precincts. But Will has an itch to move back up to the senior level, and he thinks he might be able to convince the sophomores to come with him.
I suppose I should caution you that the first two chapters in this branch are going to closely resemble two others—"Blasts from the Past" and "Twenty-Five Places to Hide" —but it can't be helped. Something important has happened off-page, and Will and Caleb need to hear about it in this branch as well as in the other.