Thoughts on my first fiction book..

My First Fiction Book!Now that my first fiction book is available, I figured I’d write down some thoughts about the writing process for this book.

When I first started writing each technical book I’ve published I began the same way. I started with a rough outline of what I wanted to teach in the book, and in each section of the book. When the book was finished and published you could look at the outline and the finished product and they would match up almost perfectly! I followed the outline I had initially laid out much like you would expect, I just had to fill out the detail.

So naturally I decided to follow a similar pattern here with my first fiction book. I’ve been playing around with a few story ideas in my head for a while, and I had one more flushed out than the rest. I knew how the story started, I knew how the story ended and I knew the important pieces of conflict that happened throughout the story. All I had to do was to fill out the detail.

Yet, if you saw the outline of that book and read “The Light In The Cabin” you would say to yourself “Huh? That isn’t the same story at all.” Which is very true, the story I wrote was not the story I was originally going to. If you read the outline I originally had, you would notice that neither the light nor the cabin were mentioned at all, and they’re so important in the book I actually wrote that they make up the title!

So how did this happen? I have no idea actually. Perhaps all writers go through something similar, but something strange happened during that last part where all I had to do was “fill out the detail”. The detail started becoming the book, and the detail started driving itself into a different story. Characters that were initially incendental to the plot were now key (perhaps because I enjoyed those characters while filling out the detail?). The main antagonist completely changed. The ending I originally had in mind couldn’t have been further from the ending that is in the book (although truth be told, the ending in the book is much better than what I originally was planning in my honest opinion).

It was such a strange experience. When writing the technical books, it was easy to follow the outline. I needed to teach concept A, so I taught concept A. There wasn’t room for divergence really, it was simply a recitation of the things I already knew. In this fiction book though, that isn’t how it went at all. All I did was diverge. I diverged so much that I actually had to go back and re-write chapter one because by the time I was finished it didn’t make any sense in the context of the story I had actually written. It made perfect sense at the time I wrote it (with the original story in mind), but not after the story led me somewhere else.

I’ve considered going back and writing the story I was intending to write from the beginning, but I don’t think I will. It was a good story I think, but all it would do now is remind me of the story I actually wrote which was better.

I can’t think of a good way to describe the process that happened (great quality for a writer, not being able to think of a description eh?). I had an idea in my mind, and then the story took over and told itself to me, and I just wrote it down.

I hope anyone who reads it enjoys the ride as much as I did.

Thoughts on being nervous

In a few days my first fiction book will be released publicly and I have to admit that I’m actually pretty nervous about the whole thing. Now, this isn’t the first book I’ve ever published, so you wouldn’t think I would be very nervous at all, but you wouldn’t be farther from the truth!

It’s one thing to publish a book on a subject you know. Hell, all of my previous books were not only on subjects I knew intimately, I could argue pretty convincingly that there wasn’t a single person on the face of the planet who knew those subjects better than I did. There’s very little to be nervous about when you are attempting to educate or give out knowledge on a subject that you invented.

Fiction is an entirely different cup of tea though. For one, I’m certainly not an “expert” in fiction books (if such a thing exists). More importantly a fiction book is just me, the characters I’ve created, my words, and my ideas. What if people read it and think “That is the worst idea I’ve ever heard.” or “This is the worst piece of writing I’ve ever seen.” What if people read it and think “Wow, that guy is crazy.” (I am!) I’ve already had people who have seen early review copies tell me it was disturbing (which given the genre I enjoy and am writing I guess could be considered a compliment).

At the end of the day, I’m writing this book because I enjoy it and it doesn’t particularly matter how many other people like it as well. That doesn’t mean I don’t want others to enjoy it though, and I’m hoping that they do. I certainly feel more exposed writing fiction than I ever did telling people how code worked, and perhaps that’s all I really feel nervous about.

My book is called “The Light In The Cabin” and I’m sure I’ll post more about it soon.

I love books!

I suppose that isn’t a huge surprise given that I’ve written three of them and as I’ve said before writing a book can be hard work. It goes beyond that though, I’ve always been a fan of books. I used to sit up and read constantly, and while I rarely have time to read as much now as I used to, I still enjoy a good book when I have the time.

I was always a fan of fiction, although interesting non-fiction stories are pretty cool I suppose. I just liked the idea of being able to be transported to an author’s world when reading. When I was younger I used to imagine myself publishing books and being a famous author and bringing other people into world’s I’ve created. I suppose you can see the parallel’s between that and video game development as well.

The thing is, the major reason I wrote my first book on Managed DirectX was because I wanted to be an “author”. I wasn’t actively looking to write a book at the time I was approached at the Game Developers Conference back in 2003, I just happened to have a lucky series of circumstances. I had the bulk of knowledge about a subject people were interested in, I was easy to find, and I happened to be able to write in a way that people found helpful. So when I was asked to write what turned out to be the Kickstart book, I jumped at the opportunity.

I was so focused on being an “author” that I almost completely lost sight of some of the benefits. I was offered multiple contracts (from various publishers) for that first book, and I came extremely close to signing and accepting the first one I saw. All I cared about was being able to walk into a book store finding my book and saying “I wrote this!” While my first book would have been just as awesome had I actually signed that first contract, I would have missed out on quite a bit of the extra benefits. For example, both contracts had an “advance” in them (which by the way to show you my naivete surprised me). However, the ‘advance’ in the first contract gave me a LCD monitor, while the advance in the one I eventually signed gave me actual money and substantially more than the cost of a monitor. The first one also had portions of royalties paid in Amazon gift cards, and while I love Amazon, they weren’t that great back then, and even now, money is still better.

I never did it for the money though, and while I certainly won’t complain about it, it wasn’t a motivating factor. That isn’t to say I’m not glad I picked the contract I did because I certainly am. However in my second book I had lost that motivation of “becoming an author” that I had in my first book and it suffered for it. The second book is obviously inferior to the first, and it took me forever to write it because my motivation wasn’t there. It took another five years before I decided to write another book and even then I only did it once I had a co-author to help me. While I didn’t have quite the same motivation for the most recent book as the first, it’s very close in quality and information. It wasn’t “work” like the second one was (and I did like that I was helping Dean become an “author” as well).

However my initial love of books and desire to write some fiction that will enable me to bring someone into a world of my creation still exists and has grown dramatically over the last few years. I still love video games and making video games, but they are often a collaborative effort. It’s very rare that a game is made under a single vision with no deviation, while that is the norm for books.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, later this year I will be publishing my first fiction book, and I’m quite excited about it. I’m terrible at picking names so it is currently still “Untitled”, but I’m sure I’ll come up with a better title soon enough. Some of my favorite authors are Stephen King, John Saul and Dean Koontz if that might help dictate where the genre might be heading as well!

What do you look for in books?

Having written a few different books in my time, it occurs to me that I rarely actually read technical books myself. It’s not that I don’t find them valuable, it’s just that I don’t personally learn best from that type of interaction. So when I began writing the books I have, I started from a potentially invalid position, namely describing the things that I thought would be useful to me if I knew nothing about the subject material. In the latest book, my co-author Dean mirrored this style to make the book flow reasonably between the two of us.

All of this to beg the question what do you look for in a book? To ask a more specific set of questions, what types of things did you like in our latest book? Did you think there were pieces of functionality completely missing? Were there areas you wished we had covered more in depth? Were there areas you thought we talked too much about? Were you hoping to find it to be more Xbox 360 centric? Windows Phone 7? Windows?

If an update to the book (or an entirely new book) were to come out, what feature must it have?


My new project!

After I left the XNA team last year, two of the most popular questions I was ask was why I left and what I was going to do next. It was hard to really formulate a good response to either given the general culture of secrecy that seems to always be around. However, now is the time to lay it all out on the line!

First, why did I leave to begin with? Philosophical differences I suppose you could call them. I was pushing very hard to get a LISP and COBOL version of the project out, and they didn’t think it would have a large enough audience. I still can’t believe they were so naive, but c’est la vie.

When I left I had a multitude of opportunities available to me, each of which were very compelling. Right when word got out I was leaving, I was contacted by the good folks at a new team that was forming. They had discovered that certain images in certain sequences could actually change the chemistry in the brain and give the user experiencing them a completely new outlook on life. The government wanted to get involved though, and I’ve worked with the government before. The technology was exciting, but not enough to work with them again.

Yet another group offered me a new job which sounded at first glance to be quite boring. Have you seen those big number signs where they’re constantly increasing with witty phrases such as “Your share of the national debt is <blah>”? Did you know that Microsoft wrote that software? I was offered the chance to be the guy who watches the numbers scroll by and make sure they stay accurate. Sure, it sounds boring, but you get to travel the world and see lots of numbers, how bad could have it been? Everyone loves numbers!

However, the job I finally took was over in Microsoft Game Studios working on an amazing new title. I probably shouldn’t be telling anyone this, but I’ve been holding it in so long, I just can’t wait anymore. What’s the worst they could do? I’m proud to announce our new game Kinectodeck. Everyone has seen how amazing it can be when you’re the controller, but we wanted to see how amazing it could be if you were actually in the game!  We use an amazing set of new technlogies to transform your living room into the actual game playing field. There are eight different Kinect sensors spread throughout the room along with sixteen mini-projectors which bring the game world directly there! It is a completely new innovative experience, where the possibilities are really limitless.  One of our recent test subjects was sent on an safari adventure where they were out riding a tiger through a lake:

We have a few bugs we still need to work out though. For example, due to our desire to have maximum realism, we may have went a little overboard. Shortly after the picture above was taken, the tiger ate our poor test subject. It’s ok though, she signed the release form. Minor setbacks, something you would expect from such an ambitious project. Major innovation doesn’t happen by being safe!  We’re moving quite fast though, and an expected release date should be just about a year from now, and I can’t tell you how excited I am.

You may be wondering how you write the games though? Why XNA of course!  You will of course need an AppHub membership to get the toolset. I’m also happy to announce that the toolset will be available for download (in a very early alpha form) next week! Stay tuned for more information, this is an exciting time in our industry and I am ecstatic to be a part of it.

Sometimes I don’t understand book reviews..

Not that I have any complaint about them, it’s just odd. For example, my latest book only has a single review, but the review is glowing and the best it could be.  Now, I naturally don’t know how other books are doing, but I am a little obsessive compulsive, so I do watch the average Amazon sales numbers, and compare them to how my book has been doing. Generally, in the category the book is in, we do very well (which is awesome), yet I see other books doing much worse in the average sales with many more reviews and I wonder why? Does their publisher try to prime the channel with reviews? Pay people to give reviews? Maybe those books just give people the overwhelming need to tell others about them, where ours does not?

I also know that our book isn’t perfect, I’ve seen mistakes in there.

I’m curious though, what do you think about the book? Like it? Hate it?

It occurs to me that I forgot to announce a few things on my blog..

For starters, I never mentioned that I had left the XNA team here.  After spending approximately a decade working on XNA and it’s predecessors, I had finally decided it was time to move on.  An opportunity came up within MGS (Microsoft Game Studios) that gave me the opportunity to make games rather than enabling others to do so.  Since I had accomplished virtually everything I had hoped to with the XNA product, and the available opportunity was too good to pass up, I moved to the new group in June.  I did announce that move on my twitter account, completley forgot to announce it here!

Along side that, Dean and I have been hard at work with our book, which you can find out more information about here:

You should expect the book to come out around the same time GS4 does.

I would say that my new role probably doesn’t afford me a bunch of time to be blogging here, but since I didn’t even remember to blog about my move, I’m not sure that it matters anyway.  I don’t even know if people still read this!

A new book on Game Studio 4.0

It has been about five years since my last book came out.  During that time, a lot has happened.  Heck, that book was about Managed DirectX, and at the time it came out XNA Game Studio didn’t even exist as an idea, much less a product.  Since then, it’s not only been released, but we’ve announced the *fourth* version of the product!  We’ve added support for Windows, Xbox, Zune, and soon, Windows Phone 7.

So much has changed, so much time has passed, it was time to do a new book.  This new book will cover Game Studio 4.0 in its entirety, including Windows Phone 7, the new features, Xbox, everything.  While we haven’t announced any release dates for Game Studio, I’m spending my spare time (what little I have) to make sure the book will come out as close as possible to the release of the product.

I’m also having some help with this one, and will have a co-author, so that is a bit exciting too!  Writing has begun so if you have suggestions, now is the time!

Gamefest (or “I never seem to write blog posts anymore”)

Well, Gamefest started today, and with that our team blog posted a new announcement.  Exciting stuff!

I also realize I rarely update this blog.  I’d love to say that I’m working on improving that, but the truth is, aside from being busy, I have I guess what you’d call “writers block”.  Nothing interesting to really talk about work related that isn’t being covered by someone else.

I’ve considered switching to the Live Spaces thingy and writing more often, but it wouldn’t be anything like the things I write here, and I can imagine the few readers i have left aren’t overly interested in the ramblings of whatever i’m thinking about at the time.  Besides, i’m sure most of that stuff would simply get me in trouble anyway.