Lost Worlds of Power Author Spotlight: James Lawless

Every week until the release of The Lost Worlds of Power, one author selected for inclusion will be given the floor. I’ve asked them to talk about themselves, their approach to the project, and anything else they’d like to say up front. I’ve also asked them to avoid spoilers, so have no fear of those. Anyway, week six: James Lawless, author of “Marble Madness,” and co-editor of The Lost Worlds of Power.

James LawlessI have a confession to make. This is all my fault. Sorry everyone.

It was back in October, shortly after Phil had posted his review of the Mega Man 2 novelization on Nintendo Life. After reading through it, I sent Phil an e-mail suggesting that he write his own novelization of an old Nintendo game for National Novel Writing Month. See how he could do writing a book about a game that may or may not have a plot under an arbitrary deadline.

“Alright, smart guy,” I wrote in the e-mail, “let’s see if you can do better. See if you can take your audience on a journey that’s any better than the original Worlds of Power books.”

Phil looked me straight in the eye (as well as he could via e-mail anyway), and said the line spoken by all the greatest men and bravest warriors in history: “I will if you will!”

Marble MadnessIt’s a response I was prepared for, because, really, a challenge like this really ought to be shared.

And I knew exactly which game I would pick. A game I liked as a child, but really came to enjoy as I got older. In our age of movies being made out of games with no particular plot, my go-to game of “what will they try next” has always been Marble Madness.

This was my opportunity to give it a story.

Marble MadnessWhat I was not prepared for was how long and difficult this writing process would be. Jamming a story into a game about marbles rolling through an obstacle course is indeed harder than it sounds. Not to mention, we’re writing in the style of a Worlds of Power novel. So while it’s supposed to be hokey and contrived, it can’t be so much so as to make it unenjoyable to read. After all, we have the original Worlds of Power novels for that.

So it was decided; we would spend November, National Novel Writing Month, writing our novelizations of Nintendo games, Phil taking Battletoads, and I, Marble Madness.

Shortly thereafter, Phil e-mails me again with an idea: how about we put out a call for submissions, and turn this thing into an anthology? This is the part of the story where I must deeply and sincerely apologize to all of the writers and all of our future readers. Because if I had just said no, I could have saved us all a bunch of time and heartache.

Marble MadnessAfter all, as hard as it was to put a story on top of Marble Madness, I can only imagine how hard it was for the rest of you. My apologies.

So why did I pick Marble Madness? The game and I have a long history. It was among the first Nintendo games we had when I was young. I spent many hours playing it, though I wasn’t particularly good at it (a recurring theme in my childhood video gaming). When I got older, I discovered one of my friends also owned it. We started playing it at sleepovers, leading to long, knock-down, drag-out competitions.

It’s the game that has always struck me as the most inane game to make a movie out of. Other people think of Tetris, but to me, it’s always been Marble Madness. Tetris, as a game, has a long history behind it, which could lead to a good movie. Also, I feel like Tetris has a lot of game-within-a-game potential.

But Marble Madness is a marble rolling through an obstacle course. It’s never really struck as a game you could do very much with.

Marble MadnessThat’s why I wanted it to be the subject of my novel.

So here we are. One volume of Lost Worlds of Power is already out, and the official volume is on the way. Neither Phil nor I thought we’d have this level of demand. Who knew that novelizing old Nintendo games would be such a popular idea.

Again, my apologies for the inconvenience.

–James Lawless

Volume 0 Author Spotlight: Philip J Reed

This week sees the release of The Lost Worlds of Power, Volume 0 as a Groupees exclusive. It contains a total of five stories, unique to this collection, and each with its own illustration. For that reason, this week will be given over to spotlighting one of the featured authors every day. Today, me. Philip J Reed, author of “Tetris.”

It's a-me.I’ve talked a bit about how much of a fast-tracked labor of love Volume 0 was for everybody involved, so while I won’t rehash it too deeply here, I do want you to keep that fact in mind, so that you’ll understand how absolutely insane I was to also write a fresh story for it.

Some background. When James Lawless (eventual co-editor) first pitched me the idea of writing Worlds of Power books, he pretty much leapt right for Marble Madness, and I just as quickly grabbed Battletoads. Then we opened the idea of a collection up to many authors…and potentially opened ourselves up to failure, as well.

I can’t speak for James, but I was worried that we might not get enough usable content to justify a book. It’s not that I thought only myself and my co-editor would be uniquely qualified to write novelizations of long-forgotten NES games…I was just slightly afraid that the folks out there who could do the best work wouldn’t even know it existed.

TetrisFortunately we ended up with a massive swirl of coverage, and great authors (with great stories) found us just fine. But I didn’t know that that would happen, so I was already formulating a plan B. Maybe, I figured, if we get a few good stories, James and I can write a few more, and then we’d have a decent-sized volume.

I didn’t want to resort to that, but if push came to shove, I’d have to do something. So I started to brainstorm ideas. Something I could write in a relatively short time (since we wouldn’t know if we had enough usable material until the submission deadline passed), and something that would also be worth reading. That’s when I got an idea for novelizing Tetris.

See, I’d just finished writing Detective Fiction around that time…a much more serious kind of comic novel than anything I would have dreamed of writing for this collection. And because that story was a bit more “grounded,” I had a lot of silly detective jokes left over. Things that I thought were funny, but that I knew didn’t belong in that particular story.

I thought I’d write “Tetris” as a detective story in which the game doesn’t figure at all; the only connection is that the detective’s last name is Tetris.

Ha ha, right?

That was pretty much the entire joke, and I’m under no illusion that it was a great one. But I figured I could write a satisfying enough mystery that people would enjoy reading it, and, hopefully, the utterly po-faced commitment to the gag would be enough to carry a lame joke further than it strictly deserved to go.

TetrisOr, I guess, the joke was that Tetris obviously had no story and no characters whatsoever, and was therefore either impossible to novelize or extremely easy to novelize…either way because you didn’t have any mandatory touchpoints guiding your hand.

Or — or! — maybe the joke was that some hack writer was commissioned to novelize Tetris, and rather than do even cursory research into the damned game he changed the name of the protagonist in some dusty manuscript of his and cashed his check.

Potentially, there could have been a few levels to the humor, but, either way, I didn’t end up writing it. And I’m glad. Glad because I didn’t really want to, and even more glad because that meant we had so many good pieces, we were worried more about trimming down than beefing up.

When Volume 0 as an idea was floated, I wondered about “Tetris.” I still didn’t want to write it, but it surfaced in my mind. A few times. And one of those times, for better or for worse, it surfaced in tandem with Flatland.

TetrisFlatland is a favorite novella of mine, and I knew James was a fan as well. It’s a philosophical / mathematical / sociological / spiritual / cautionary hallucination of a book, about a sentient shape (A. Square) in a land of sentient shapes. To say more would detract from at least some of the incredible sense of discovery that comes with reading it, but when the idea of a world of living shapes came to mind alongside my basic idea for a noir-tinged “Tetris,” things snapped into place.

A plot filled itself out. Characters introduced themselves to me. Themes came flooding in. It was no longer a stupid joke I hoped I didn’t have to tell…it was a story I genuinely, and urgently, wanted to write.

I actually told James my idea in the hopes that he’d (rightly) slap me and say we’re already short on time, and can’t afford to add more work to the pile. Instead, he insisted I do it…even though it meant he was up in the wee small hours of the morning, copy-editing the stories that I couldn’t get to because I was too busy writing.

TetrisIn the end, I’m actually very happy with it. I was building toward something, and then, for whatever reason, I ended up feeling pulled in another direction. I scrapped most of what I’d written, and started again, because the new direction was a richer one, and I wanted to do it justice. That game with no characters or story was surprising me with how actively the characters and story pulled me along.

As a writer, that’s always the most pleasant kind of surprise, and I can safely say that Tetris was the most surprising place to find it.

It’s something that I hope you enjoy. I hope you enjoy the entire book, of course, but I came out of the writing experience feeling immensely satisfied. And I hope at least a few of you will be, too.

Thanks for sticking with this, and thank you — all of you — for your support.

Grab it while you can. I think you will like it.

Volume 0 Author Spotlight: Lucas Hale

This week sees the release of The Lost Worlds of Power, Volume 0 as a Groupees exclusive. It contains a total of five stories, unique to this collection, and each with its own illustration. For that reason, this week will be given over to spotlighting one of the featured authors every day. Today, Lucas Hale, author of “Balloon Fight.”

Lucas HaleI currently reside in California at the far east of the Bay Area with my wife and doggy daughter. I have a Ph.D. and came to California to pursue scientific research. While I have about a dozen published technical papers, I’m thrilled to announce that this is the first time that a creative work of mine is being printed.

A few years ago, I got the urge to do something creative to counteract the preciseness of scientific research and writing. My drawing is on par with a sixth grader and my wife has banned me from singing, so I took up writing.

Most things I write are not worth sharing, as I get distracted easily from my hobby by things such as work, family, reading and video games. Although work hasn’t been as much of an issue lately, in part due to congress failing to agree on a budget last year.

Balloon FightI’ve been addicted to surfing Nintendo Life for too many years now. It’s there where I first saw Philip’s review of the Castlevania 2 Worlds of Power book. Seeing it me inspired to write my own review of video game based novels. And as luck (or shame) would have it, I happen to have the entire set of twelve Nintendo Adventure Books which I purchased new way back in the day. For those who don’t know, those are choose your own adventure style books based on Mario and Zelda games.

If anyone is intrigued, I’ve posted the ones I’ve finished here. But don’t expect much. My rate so far for writing the reviews is on par with Philip’s rate on the Worlds of Power reviews (as in two).

Balloon FightIt was, of course, on Nintendo Life where I saw the announcement for this contest. The timing corresponded well with my sudden increase in free time. I was therefore tempted to write a tale or two. Then I forgot about the contest since people were telling me to apply for jobs and go on interviews and such. When I remembered again, I tracked down the information to make sure that I hadn’t missed the deadline, and turned out my story in a week of madness.

I wanted to take a nice, simple, innocent NES game and twist it into something wonderfully horrifying. I skimmed through an online list and the perfect selection popped out at me: Balloon Fight.

Balloon FightCute little kids floating through the air to pop each other’s bright balloons in an EPIC BATTLE TO THE DEATH! Mix in a little Hunger Games and Running Man, and I was set.

I did extensive (five minutes of) background research to ensure that my story was true to the source material. I even went so far as to watch Youtube videos of good players for both game modes. As such, one could call my story a historical fiction. If they had no concept of reality.

The story itself is dramatic, but I tried to not take it too seriously. In addition to game referential humor, there is some cruel, dark comedy associated with an announcer firing out cheesy 1980s action movie style one liners after violent events. This contrasted nicely with the emotional scarring of the characters following such events. Anyways, there’s not much more that I can say about a short story based on an even shorter video game without spoiling anything.

Balloon FightGo onto Groupees and buy the bundle. Make something useful come out of a fantasy story of kid-on-kid violence by having your money go to a good cause. Enjoy the content and support everyone who was part of this project. Call your mother and tell her you love her. Run through the streets naked screaming about killer moths.

Okay, maybe not that last one, but go do the rest right now!

Many, many thanks to Philip and everyone else working on this project for their dedication and commitment for creating something out of nothing in such a short time. It’s truly amazing to me that something I wrote is going to be part of such a professionally done publication, and so quickly! I’m sure all of the authors appreciate everything that was done in getting out stories out there. I can’t wait to get both volumes so that I can enjoy all of the stories and artwork.

–Lucas Hale

Volume 0 Author Spotlight: Chris Gomez

This week sees the release of The Lost Worlds of Power, Volume 0 as a Groupees exclusive. It contains a total of five stories, unique to this collection, and each with its own illustration. For that reason, this week will be given over to spotlighting one of the featured authors every day. Today, Chris Gomez, author of “Kirby’s Adventure.”

Chris GomezIn early January, two post-college friends, one having majored in Creative Writing, the other in Philosophy, convened at the latter’s house in San Francisco to declare a weekend-long “Writing Bunker.” They would not leave the house until Sunday night, in hopes that each would help motivate the other to finish his current project. With groceries stockpiled and a tight schedule typed up into Google Calendar, the two aspiring writers set themselves to the task at hand.

I am the philosophy student, and “Kirby’s Adventure” is the absurd monstrosity I finished writing that weekend. I have no real formal training in writing fiction, but I’ve always been terribly fascinated by stories, and every once in a while I feel like I have the makings of a fiction piece brewing in my head. Usually they never make it out on to paper or into a computer.

Kirby's AdventureIt’s time I start changing that. Few things are worse, professionally speaking, than being a 20-something writer who never writes.

The Lost Worlds of Power project appealed to me for two big reasons. First, I was having a hard time motivating myself to write, and having a deadline of some kind usually helps me. Second, I love every era of video game history, but I love few periods more than the early 90s of crap-shoot console game advertising.

I was born just a few years too late to be able to really appreciate the NES in its unchallenged kingly years, and while I’ve played and love a bunch of the system’s best games, I wanted to write something that was much more in my wheelhouse.

Kirby's AdventureIt’s a lucky thing then that Kirby’s Adventure came out in 1993, right in the thick of the sneering, in-your-face, bad-attitude tween years of console gaming, and what better way to totally misinterpret the most adorable, happy-go-lucky Nintendo hero than by tarring and feathering him with the essence of Vanilla Ice and grunge rock?

This joke isn’t a new one, though. There’s even a name for the fact that Kirby’s face tends to get photoshopped to have a scowling frown on American cover art: “Kirby is Hardcore.” So to spruce things up and add a few layers to the idea, I didn’t just want to use dated slang.

I wanted to fill the story’s chapters with out-of-left-field references to 90s kid/nerd culture, but also give it an undercurrent of sleazy insincerity. I tried to put myself in the mindset of an over-worked, underpaid ad-man at Nintendo of America, trying his best to figure out what those damn kids are all on about these days.

Kirby's AdventureAlright I’ve got seven ads to draft up for Nintendo Power this month, what I gonna do for this damn pink puff ball? Skateboards? Pogs – what the hell are those things anyway? Ahh, I got it. Ninjas! The kids love ninjas! And comic books! With that demon fella, Spawn! He’s got a skateboard, right?

So I invented awkward sounding slang and jammed obtrusive product placement in at key moments. I even looked up ad copy for old 90s action figures for inspiration if I felt like I was repeating myself or running out of words and phrases to slam together.

Kirby's AdventureAll of this was built off of a skeleton of plot-point notes I threw together as I re-played Kirby’s Adventure, trying to figure out which levels had the most dramatic potential. It was a surprisingly inspiring play-through, given that Kirby games are chock full of mini-bosses, which lend themselves to character conflict pretty easily.

I ultimately wanted to write something with no redeeming value beyond being ridiculous, stupid, and funny. Which is usually the opposite of the kinds of things I write, and I’m pretty happy with the results.

My sincerest hope is that when people read this thing, they react to it with a mixture of embarrassment and nostalgia, breaking down into uncontrollable, befuddled giggles.

At least, that’s what I do when I re-read it.

–Chris Gomez

Volume 0 Author Spotlight: R J Burgess

This week sees the release of The Lost Worlds of Power, Volume 0 as a Groupees exclusive. It contains a total of five stories, unique to this collection, and each with its own illustration. For that reason, this week will be given over to spotlighting one of the featured authors every day. Today, R J Burgess, author of “Mario is Missing!”

R J BurgessThe first magazine I remember buying with my own money was called Total, a Nintendo-focussed monthly that ran for a number of years in the mid-90s.

Overall, I have fond memories of it. It was funny and informative, packed full of content and with just the right ratio of images to text to keep my eight-year-old self entertained on many a long car journey.

It wasn’t without its flaws, however.

Take their review for Mario is Missing! Whatever schmuck reviewed that game ended up giving it a score of 92% out of 100. 92%!

Mario is Missing!That was only 1% less than the score they’d given to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It was 2% more than they’d given to SimCity and F-Zero, and they were two of my favourite games on the SNES.

The reviewer called it fun and educational. He said it was unlike anything else on the console. It’s Mario, he said, and we all know you can’t go wrong with Mario, right?

I was instantly sold.

So I saved up for it. I squirreled away my pocket money for half a year in order to buy a copy. I still own it to this day…

Mario is Missing!And I don’t think it would surprise anyone when I say that it was one of the most disappointing experiences of my entire life. I played it once, completed it in just a couple of hours, and never touched it again.

I learned two very valuable lessons that day. First, that not everything with the word “Mario” in the title is made of gold. And second, that opinions are like assholes — everyone has one, no one really cares what yours looks like, and trying to use a 100-point scale to define one is a retarded thing to do. Anyone who buys a game based solely on its review score deserves the sort of soul-crushing disappointment that my eight-year-old self went through.

Mario is Missing!Anyway, as soon as the Lost Worlds of Power contest was announced, I knew that this was one ghost from my past I was going to have a lot of fun exorcising. I had some serious bones to pick with this game and its quote-unquote “story.” I’ve always enjoyed over-analysing things and there were a lot of, shall we say, “character motivations” that I didn’t feel were clear in the original plot of the game.

Hopefully, these things will make a bit more sense now that I’m finished with them.

I hope you have as much fun reading this story as I did writing it. If you fancy checking out some more of my stories afterwards, feel free to visit my blog.

–R J Burgess

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