It’s Not Just Writers Who Find It Hard to Make Money

If you like computer games, and you have an iPad or Android device, I highly recommend The Silent Age. It’s a witty and striking game of puzzles, time-travel, and mystery.

You play a janitor who discovers not only the first signs of a disease that is on the verge of wiping out mankind, but also a pocket-sized time machine. As you escape from the police and search for an explanation, that device allows you to jump from your starting point in the 1970s to a ruined future world, forty years later.

As a result, you see every location in the game twice–how it looks in your present and how it looks in the future you are trying to prevent.

From this:

To this:

Many of the game’s puzzles require multiple jumps in time to solve. Perhaps a door is locked in the 1970s, but is torn from its hinges in the future: you jump in time, walk through, then jump back. Sometimes these puzzles are quite elaborate. One challenge, late in the game’s second episode, based around a hungry scientist and an apple core, is frustratingly subtle to figure out, but leads, once you finally work out the necessary steps, to a haunting, mind-expanding moment.

This certainly isn’t, however, a full-scale game like X-COM or GTA. You could potentially complete it in a single day, and at times (especially early in the second episode) the gameplay feels a little too obvious, the script too close to the surface. And yet, the artistry of its designers made me a real fan. You are constantly entering scenes that you have to pause and examine–the artistic vision is so present, so consistent, that this vision attains a reality of its own.

The Silent Age has a solidity and impact that many longer, supposedly more complex games lack.

The Silent Age now has a large fan base, and a lot of people have played the game. By most standards, this is a successful app.

And yet, it’s pretty clear from the official blog that House on Fire, the production company, has struggled considerably to make this game. Years have gone by while the team has been trying to complete the two episodes of this short game’s story. The first episode was released on the App store for free: the second, recently released, now costs $4.99. You could, at the end of episode one, choose to contribute money to enable them to make the sequel (I did, although at the smallest level of $2.99). Comments that the team made at the time suggested that this attempt at crowd-sourcing raised much less than they had hoped.

Now, I have no idea how much money the second episode will make for House on Fire. Perhaps it will be a lot: I hope so. But there does seem a growing awareness, among tech writers and designers, that making high-quality apps for the iPad and iPhone may not be the lucrative endeavour it first seemed. And these are the apps the most well-known tech writers praise and use themselves: here, for instance, is the creator of Unread explaining how little money he has made.

Even the iPad’s signature apps, like Paper, may not actually be paying their designers’ salaries.

Since 2008, when the old economy shuddered and fell, we seem to have moved to a different economy, one far more dependent on de facto monopolies and returns to scale. If, for the past six years, you’ve been working for Google or Apple, or have administered a successful program at a major university, you’ve probably done very well. But anyone unable to tie themselves to such a massive enterprise has struggled. This isn’t only about being a drop-out aspiring novelist: aspiring biologists have encountered similar travails.

(Aren’t research biologists, the people who find cures for terrifying diseases, supposed to be in demand?)

House on Fire, a small game design company, seem to have done everything right–or, at least, enough things right. But will that actually be enough to pay their bills, to allow keep them making new games that build on the success of The Silent Age?

I hope so.

Texts Benedict -- a truly tasty reading series (1)

Texts Benedict, a reading of poetry, fiction, & memoir in Knoxville, TN

Dear all,

If you’ll be in the Knoxville area on November 22nd, come to one of the city’s best restaurants, The Plaid Apron, for an afternoon of poetry, prose, and small plates. Four great writers will read their work in the quiet riverside neighbourhood of Sequoyah Hills.

Here’s the info from the event’s facebook page:


Join us on November 22nd for a reading at The Plaid Apron, featuring local writers Marilyn Kallet and Erin Elizabeth Smith, as well as awesome out-of-towners Ira Sukrungruang and Tawni Waters.

Saturday, November 22 at 3:30pm – 5:00pm
The Plaid Apron – A Knoxville Café
1210 Kenesaw Ave, Knoxville, Tennessee 37919

You can view bios for these lovely writer folk below.

Tawni and Ira are both on book tour this fall, and we want to help them celebrate their new books with a feast of words and tasty small plates. There will be a selection of small plates, beer, wine, and coffees and teas available for purchase.

Please come out and support these writers, and eat, drink, and be merry!

Jeni Stewart

About Our Readers:

Marilyn Kallet is the author of 16 books including The Love That Moves Me, poetry by Black Widow Press, 2013. She has also translated Paul Eluard’s Last Love Poems (Derniers poèmes d’amour), Benjamin Péret’s The Big Game (Le grand jeu), and has co-translated Chantal Bizzini’s Disenchanted City (La Vie Désenchantée), due out in 2015. Kallet directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Tennessee, where she is Nancy Moore Goslee Professor of English. Each spring she leads poetry workshops for the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Auvillar, France.

Check out her website at: http://www.marilynkallet.com/

Erin Elizabeth Smith teaches poetry writing, public writing, and a variety of literature and genre classes including Women in American Literature and Introduction to Poetry at the University of Tennessee. Her first book of poetry, The Fear of Being Found, was published by Three Candles Press in early 2008 and her chapbook, The Chainsaw Bears, was published by Dancing Girl Press. Her second full-length collection, The Naming of Strays was released by Gold Wake Press in 2011.

Smith’s poetry and nonfiction have appeared in 32 Poems, Mid-American, The Yalobusha Review, New Delta Review, Florida Review, Third Coast, Crab Orchard, Revolution House, West Branch, and Willow Springs, among others. In 2009, she graduated with her PhD in Creative Writing from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. In 1999, she founded Stirring: A Literary Collection, and since then has also served as the managing editor of Sundress Publications and the Best of the Net Anthology (2006-2013). Smith currently lives in Oak Ridge, TN where she is the Creative Director for Sundress Academy for the Arts at Firefly Farms.

Tawni Waters is a writer, actor, college teacher, and gypsy. Her first novel, Beauty of the Broken, will be released by Simon/Pulse in Fall 2014. Her first poetry book, Siren Song, will be released by Burlesque Press in Winter 2014. Her work has been published in Best Travel Writing 2010, Bridal Guide Magazine, Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Albuquerque Journal, Albion Review, ABQ Arts Magazine,So To Speak, Blood Lotus, and Conceptions Southwest, among others. She is a regular contributor to Burlesque Press and was a regular contributor Albuquerque’s East Mountain Telegraph. In 2010, she won the Grand Prize in the Solas Awards Travel Writing Competition. In 2009, she won the Editor’s Award for Fiction from Ellipses Magazine. She teaches creative writing at Estrella Mountain College. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her children and a menagerie of wayward animals. In her spare time, she talks to angels, humanely evicts spiders from her floorboards, and plays Magdalene to a minor rock god.

Ira Sukrungruang is the author of the memoir Talk Thai: The Adventures of Buddhist Boy and the poetry collection In Thailand It Is Night, which won the Anita Claire Schraf Award. He is coeditor of two anthologies on the topic of obesity: What Are You Looking At? The First Fat Fiction Anthology and Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology. He is the recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Nonfiction Literature, an Arts and Letters Fellowship, and the Emerging Writer Fellowship. His work has appeared in many literary journals, including Post Road, The Sun, and Creative Nonfiction. He is one of the founding editors of Sweet: A Literary Confection (sweetlit.com), and teaches in the MFA program at University of South Florida and the low-residency MFA program at City University in Hong Kong.

On a stoop

The Writing Process Blog Tour: freedom and work

My PhD exams are finally done! My brain is slowly recovering. A great pile of books keeps refusing to remove itself from my desk and return to the shelves. Thank you greatly to everyone who wished me well! I’m very appreciative.

Today, I’m answering the four standard questions of the “Writing Process Blog Tour.”

First! Thank you to the wonderful and inspiring Eva for tagging me in this viral writing process description experience.

Second! Apologies to the amazing multi-talented Sara Henning, who tagged me months ago, only I didn’t quite get what was happening, kept asking for clarification, and must have been a bit annoying to deal with. It was a slow month for Daniel’s brain, is all I can say.

So. Eva has tagged me and our modern-day Isis, Tawni Waters, who talked about neck hollows and mermaids — you should really go read her post.

If you are still here, here is my humble attempt, below.

1) What are you working on?

I’m working on a novel, This City is a Clock. It’s set in 18th century Edinburgh, at the time of the Scottish enlightenment. When Edinburgh’s leading architects discover that a young boy, Hand McLeish, has a strange gift with counting and time, they enlist him in the building of the highly rational, classically proportioned new city. Hand is delighted to help them, desperate to get his family out of poverty and away from Granny Wynd, the terrifying witch who lives next door. But when the architects run into a series of vested interests who oppose their plans, Hand has no choice but go to the witch and ask for her help: each time he asks, the cost to him and the city grows. The novel takes place in three sections: we meet Hand as a boy, as a young man, and in middle age, struggling to free himself from the deals he made with Granny Wynd.

That’s the plan! I’ve drafted the first third, when Hand is a boy, and have working all summer on the second third, exploring exactly how to start it the right way.

All writing work, however, has been stopped for the past few weeks, as I’ve been doing PhD exams. I was planning to submit a piece to Creative Nonfiction’s “Waiting” contest, but the exams swallowed their deadline without even blinking. I’ve also written another funny submission for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, but I haven’t shown the piece to anyone nor sent it in, worried it’s too depressing, and not actually funny.


2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

This is a big question and a temptation to megalomania.

In terms of the creative writing world I’ve spent the last several years in, my fiction attempts to cross the literary / popular divide, to be firstly well-written, deep, intensely profound and so on, and, secondly, structured around a quick-moving, thrilling story. That, at least, is the goal.

My best story, for instance, is a tale about Billy Joel and time travel. It’s still unpublished, sadly, possibly because it’s 8,000 words long, or possibly because writing contests don’t like stories where Billy Joel is the protagonist. Let’s see where that story ends up.

And yet, I’ve begun wondering if I will keep thinking about fiction like this. I’m aware that part of my focus on keeping things popular is a reaction to being for so long in creative writing environments, where, I sometimes feel, there is a unhealthy focus on “art.” Now, I like art. In creative writing environments, however, the term starts to take on a funny echo, an odd shadow. I’ve long felt that if I write a story and no one really understands it, I am, as a writer, in a state of mortal sin. I must keep the focus on the reader, and how she reads.

But, now that I’m out of workshops forever, I feel my interest in “craft” declining. I will at least for the near future be reading only the work of my good friends (all great writers) and actually published work, and so the old impetus to talk about the gritty nuts and bolts of fiction may fade. And over the summer, reading for my PhD exams, I found myself thinking afresh about my old opinions. During the actual writing of those two exams, I found myself putting down answers I didn’t quite expect from myself. I discovered I felt more sympathy for the “market = bad; avant garde = good” view of fiction than I ever anticipated.

I hope this doesn’t mean I am simply turning one opinion on its head, swapping one view for its inverse or a milder, muddier version — with luck I will be able to keep all my old ideas but in a larger, more generous form.

img 3307

3) Why do you write what you do?

The world is not in a good shape. The job of the artist is to offer a vision of freedom.

Through that vision, the author hopes to break through the illusion of necessity, to show that we don’t have to keep reluctantly marching to our doom.

I think I take this view from Northrop Frye, who I first read in Taiwan. His book on William Blake and his “anatomy” of literature transformed my view of everything.

Of course, such grand talk is easy to remember when feeling well-rested, confident, comfortable, and encouraged. Much of the time, I’m not thinking about visionary freedom, but rather — can this piece get published?? Please, God, can I finish it and then can it be published so people think I’m amazing??

4) How does your writing process work?

I used to be a more regular writer than I am. I used to be a strict morning writer, avoiding the internet for as long as possible each day. Now, however, try to see writing as a rhythm of higher and lower energy, something one shouldn’t try to fight. Particularly with novels, or particularly with the novels I try to write, you have to figure out the right way in. Just slogging away doesn’t seem to work for me.

It’s still a good day, however, when I have breakfast early, bid the lady goodbye as she leaves for work, walk the dogs, then come home and get writing. I unplug the internet from the wall, open up Scrivner, and write until an early lunch. During the hours of such hard, good work, I feel the great gift that art brings, that vision of freedom.

Then I cook lunch and try not to be useless for the rest of the day.


That’s it!

I will politely invite anyone who wishes to answer these four questions to consider themselves tagged. I will gladly link to you or, if you prefer, I can host your post here. Johanna Deane? Richard Hermes? Brenna Layne? Joe Ponepinto? I’d love to see your replies.

Daniel Wallace

Modern fiction, it's often said, is merely competent. Here's to some "incompetent" fiction.


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