The Story Behind Fiction Vortex: Heart, Soul, Guts

I’ve wanted nothing more than to be an author since fourth grade. I’ve often told the story of how my fourth grade teacher held writing competitions every Friday. Everyone would write a short story. The teacher would read them anonymously, and my classmates would raise their hands for their favorite one. My stories always tallied several votes, and would often win. But my year long goal had been to obtain every single vote. That would be the indicator of true storytelling success.

Cue Schmaltzy Music…

It took most of the year, and a severe copyright infringement, but finally a Ghostbusters fan fiction piece earned the accolades of every single one of my classmates. I had done it. I had become a writer. Of course back in the early 1980’s we didn’t have stuff like KDP or Smashwords, or ebooks, or the internet. I grew up during the tail end of an era.

Books and the world of written storytelling endured essentially without change for a century. That all changed with the arrival of the 21st century. Technology has rapidly shifted our lifestyles away from paper. We’ve grown more impulsive and spontaneous. Smart phones have replaced the need for advanced planning. The information age has broken over us like surging waves over a breakwater.

We shop from our homes and read off of screens.

What of the written story in a world of streaming content and immersive gaming?

Change is coming to the way we create and deliver written stories. That much is inevitable, and needed.

Reading is in a state of disruption. The written word is losing out to other forms of media that fail to challenge the heart, mind and imagination the same way reading does. Our culture has evolved beyond current publishing methods. Why should reading suffer as a result? Why should our imaginations be dulled and our empathy wane? The answer is not to stop reading stories or to stop creating them. The answer is to evolve the way we create and share them. This is what myself and my business partners have addressed by founding Fiction Vortex.

The Story Behind Fiction Vortex: Part 1, Heart

During an interview at Sasquan (73rd World Science Fiction Conference), Mike, Jon and I were asked about the cost of creativity. The responses reminded me of the heart that goes into everything we write.

Mike: In an episode of Brunning Divide, I faced the terrible dilemma of how to kill a two year old boy. I have a two year old boy. After struggling with the emotion of the scene for hours, I resolved the matter by including a powerful image of an empty bed at the bottom of a sink hole. As the mother crashes onto the remains of the broken, EMPTY bed frame, it is clear in her mind as well as the reader’s that the baby is gone forever. After finishing the scene, I retreated to my son’s room and squeezed him extra tight.

Jon: Not long ago, my wife entered the office to ask me a question. She found me mumbling angrily with my head in my hands. Taken aback, she asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I’m angry at a character.”

“I thought you were writing, not reading.”

“I am.”

“You’re angry at one of your own characters?”

“Yes!”

With a dumbfounded look on her face, she followed up with another question. “Uh, it’s your character. So shouldn’t you be angry at yourself?”

“But he’s the one who betrayed his best friend!” I thudded my head on my desk and continued to seethe for another ten minutes.

David: Betrayal is the hardest. I once had a father betray his only daughter in an effort to save her life. By doing so, he violated her deepest and expressed desires. In doing so, he turned her into a sort of monster, but he kept her alive. I had associated so strongly with the father, I felt dirty for several days afterwards. It affected the way I interacted with my own children and made me consider the selfish ways I interact that might be going against the needs of those closest to me.

This intensity of heart is what creates empathy with the reader, but this feeling has to be real within the writer first. Now accelerate and intensify the impact of these emotional moments, because at Fiction Vortex we write episodically. That means we develop the inner conflict of our characters at a more grueling pace, and we put them through traumatic experiences much more frequently—in each and every episode.

We Believe in Consequences and Redemption

Why put our characters through so much grief? Fiction Vortex believes deeply in consequences and redemption. We’ll never include anything gratuitously (without an appropriate consequence within the storyworld), because we desire to connect with the reader at the heart of his/her own experience. We believe it is our responsibility as storytellers to make that vital connection.

There is no more intense and universal desire than redemption. Love? Perhaps. But inevitably we will disappoint the subjects of our love. What then? Redemption. Failure cuts us to the quick. Stories of redemption fuel our hope and strengthen our resolve to make it right.

There is enough tin-man-fiction in the world. Readers (even of science fiction and fantasy!) deserve stories that strengthen the heart while they entertain.

The Story Behind Fiction Vortex: Part 2, Soul

Creativity is an elemental force throughout the universe. It has been said cleanliness is next to godliness. At Fiction Vortex, we believe creativeness is godliness.

Creativity is a Godly Activity

Our ability to create is what makes us like God, complete with the powers to build up and the powers to destroy. Storytellers create life and take life on a daily basis. In so doing, we comprehend minuscule pieces of the mind of God as well as humankind. We have started Fiction Vortex around the idea that this power comes with a responsibility to portray our writer’s knowledge truthfully.

We create because we are, and that creation should reveal something true about what we are and why. We are fragile. We are curious. We are bold. We are selfish. We are giving. We are spiritual. We are human.

Equal to Our Ability to Create is Our Ability to Relate

Creation and Relation lay at the soul of what it means to be human. And these two things also unlock the mysteries of God. The more shards of godliness we unlock from those around us, the bigger our picture of God grows. This is all we can ask for as humans—to know God.

Fiction Vortex promises to build its stories on the foundation of human relationships. We will stress them, crush them and restore them in an effort to unlock those godly gems lying dormant in our being. We hope that these shards of truth will reveal God through our fiction. Perhaps we ourselves will reap most of the benefit, but there has to be some fringe benefits of being an author:)

Fiction done right is important. It strengthens our ability to relate to the divine and our ability to empathize with each other. Fiction Vortex is dedicated to doing fiction right.

The Story Behind Fiction Vortex: Part 3, Guts

Lisa Simpson once asked Nelson what he felt inside him. Nelson’s response, “Guts…and black stuff…and about fifty Slim Jims.” There is a bit more to the guts of Fiction Vortex than black stuff and Slim Jims, but I just love that quote.

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Suffice to say, we’re gutty. We’ve got chutzpah, as they say. We want to change the way people write and read stories. Self-publishing has created a content solution. It has also created a curation problem. I can promise you the book you want to read is out there. Unfortunately, finding it can be painful.

Across all major book retailers, curation of the mountains of reading content is based on finding a needle in a haystack. Fiction Vortex flouts this model. Instead, we are building you a custom haystack of needles. We’re creating your new favorite storyworlds and delivering fresh content from these worlds on a weekly (soon to be daily) basis. Forget the search. Our goal is nothing less than becoming your sole source of fiction.

Imagine your favorite storyworld. Now imagine rocking awesome content streaming from that storyworld at your fingertips…as fast as you can read it…

That is the world we envision. With your help, we can deliver this vision further and faster.

Fiction Vortex is changing the way we create and share stories to match our cultural shift. Digital. Episodic. Serial. Collaborative. Be a part of the information-age evolution of written storytelling. Back our Kickstarter and hold on for the ride: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/redneckgranola/fiction-vortex-serial-boxes

Can a Kickstarter Create Something Entirely New?

As so often is the case these days, a Kickstarter campaign marks the pivot point from tinkering in the garage to hitting the streets. This time, the project is Fiction Vortex, an experimental effort to allow digital, written storytelling to discover its native format.

Ebooks were a first step. What next?

I don’t believe electronic books will be the final say. Ebooks were the natural first step. Where to next? Fiction Vortex is betting on some form of serial, episodic, collaborative content. Here is why.

Collaborative

The demand to keep a reader’s attention is no longer tenable by a single author. No matter how prolific the writer, readers will move on and forget about all but their very favorite authors unless that author is able to keep pushing new content into the market month after month after month. This takes a team. This takes collaboration.

Serial

Discovering new storyworlds and new authors takes time and energy. Good characters demand investment. Curation is the nightmare of the 21st century when it comes to written content. When (most) readers find a story and characters they love, they want to be able to keep going back to the well. For the last decades, this has meant creating content in “series.” Those days are now transitioning to creating content in “serial.” But I’m not a fan of serial just for serial sake (taking a finished product and chopping it into pieces for practical reasons beyond the story). That leads us to my third bullet point.

Episodic

Collaborative serial fiction allows a group of authors to publish new stories on a weekly basis–never allowing readers to forget about the story. While that system could work in and of itself, I think episodic story structure will be critical to success. Television is a good source to look for proof. The weekly episode has become ubiquitous. Can such a model work with the written word? I believe so. This means readers could enjoy a new, complete story from beloved storyworlds every week.

What exactly does such a combination look like?

What length will prove viable for these episodes? I’m not sure. I prefer to work with around 10,000 words (40 pages). Most readers will read a story of that length in 30 to 50 minutes. Seems about right for digital reading attention spans these days. And if a reader chooses to binge read several episodes, there is nothing to prevent them from doing so. A long commute to work? Just put the kids to bed? Lunch break? Our lives are divided into 30-50 minute chunks.

Will readers frequent fiction platforms not named Amazon? Because selling such serial fiction would never work on the established retailers. There are many questions left to answer. I’d love to hear from you. What questions pop into your mind?

Fiction Vortex is pushing off into these waters with a kickstarter that we hope will help us gather a community of folk who want to answer these questions and enjoy some great collaborative, serial, episodic fiction along the way.

 

Publishing Disruption has Only Just Begun

For those of you who haven’t heard, ebook sales leveled off during 2014. (Hear the collective sigh of relief over New York.) Some industry insiders see this as the end of an electronic fad. (http://www.idealog.com/blog/the-publishing-business-as-we-have-known-it-is-not-going-away-anytime-soon/) Others see it as the eye of the storm. (http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2015/how-to-survive-the-death-of-the-book/)

As a full time author and entrepreneur, I think storytelling will inevitably rediscover its natural, digital form. This form will look nothing like the two-year long process the publishing industry clings to today. Honestly, I don’t believe written storytelling in five years will closely resemble the ebook of today either. (And I’m currently making my living off of such packets of information.)

For my part, I tend to agree with Gareth Cuddy (http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2015/publishings-digital-disruption-hasnt-even-started/) when he says the true disruption hasn’t yet begun.

Fiction Vortex (http://www.fictionvortex.com) is my prediction on how that disruption will take place.

The brainchild of a ragtag, vanguard of indie authors (me included), Fiction Vortex emphasizes imagination and fun. Tired of industry standards, we’ve decided to no longer take crap, so readers don’t have to read it.

We’re creating serial fiction in collaborative story worlds called “serial boxes” (like sandboxes but for serial fiction. Eh? Eh?) These serial boxes each contain multiple serials that enable authors to push out weekly episodes through the Fiction Vortex platform. With every serial box creating at least one episode a week, readers will have no shortage of content taking place within story worlds they already know and love.

Will it work? The next 12 months will tell. If we can prove the model, the only ceiling is the number of digital readers willing to find their content somewhere other than Amazon.