So this year, I offered a bunch of tiny fandoms where I already had plenty of ideas for fic. Then to make myself more matchable, I threw in an extra fandom as a wildcard: a big-for-Yuletide fandom where my opinions about the canon are out of step with the fandom as a whole.
Yeah, guess what I matched on?
So when my assignment arrived it was for In The Flesh, which made me nervous and it was from a recipient who had no fandom presence and a placeholder letter, which made me way more nervous.
Fortunately the placeholder became a letter fairly quickly. Even better, my recip seemed to be in the fandom for some of the same things as me: namely worldbuilding and minor characters. Their prompt was for a fic set during the second rising, which I didn't have any ideas for, but their list of general likes included "stories told through letters and documentation" and I've written a scrapbook story before in Discworld fandom, so I decided to go with that. I sent off an email via the mods checking that they'd be able to view images and to disguise what they would be getting, I also added some questions about things I had no intention of writing, like Interactive Fiction.
I came out the gate strong with my found documents fic. I'd started putting together a spread from a women's lifestyle magazine "I'm Having My Dead Hubby's Babies!", a legal journal "The Admissibility of Post-Mortem Testimony From Murder Victims With Partially Deceased Syndrome", a signal boost post from a PDS Tumblr user about how the phrase "PDS Sufferer" is incompatible with the social model of disability and a Daily Mail article about benefits fraud, because even in the post-apocalypse, Dacres gonna Dake...
What I didn't have was any kind of story or throughline. I was having a lot of fun, but I wasn't really writing a Yuletide fic, so much as curating a really long and pointless art project.
So I decided to start over, focusing on my recip's prompt about the second rising. Thinking about the implications of the second season finale, where first Amy, then Kieren (and then presumably everybody with PDS) starts to come back to life. Because on the one hand, that would make the rising so much easier to deal with emotionally. You'd know that it was only temporary and your dead loved ones would be returning to you. On the other hand, it would make fighting for your life a lot more complicated. Defending yourself during the first rising would have been like defending yourself from a mugger who's trying to attack you, defending yourself during the second rising would be more like trying to defend yourself from your dad, who's trying to attack you because he's got Alzheimers and he's forgotten who you are and he's panicking. In both scenarios you're being attacked, but in the second scenario you're trying to defend your assailant as well as yourself.
So I was thinking about how everybody on the show talked a lot about the second rising as a fait accompli, but never did anything to prepare for it. (The Vicar is the only one with a secured grave. There are no sirens or anything set up to warn people when the next rising happens.) While also thinking about being put in that position of trying to support somebody who wants to kill you and all the different obstacles that would lie in the way of managing that.
Anyway, at this point I remembered that my recip had said in the email that they'd be up for Interactive Fiction and since time was ticking away to deadline, clearly the solution was to try and learn a new programming language and write my first ever text adventure in the short time before the deadline.
I found Inform relatively easy to write in. The code is designed to be close to normal language, but that only leaves you feeling doubly betrayed when it gets all anal about commands being indented or when it refuses to recognise a perfectly cromulent verb.
I laid out the map on post-it notes and then worked my way through a room at a time, with frequent reference to the Inform manual. (The manual is very good and has lots of example code in it, which really helped.) The first go around bore more resemblance to an MC Escher drawing than a Lancashire village, but I eventually got it into a version that was more or less playable, although I suspect that if any real IF programmers were to take a look at the underlying code, they would weep actual tears and how badly constructed and byzantine it looks.
The objects part of the puzzle was relatively straightforward. Two things took up 90% of my time. The first was coming up with reply tables for all the characters you can interact with, so that if you ask Gary about PDS he says something different to Connie, who says something different to Pearl, who says something different to the cat. (The cat's opinion of PDS is "MREEAAAOOOWW!", in case you were curious.) The second was finding a way to distinguish between violent rabids, rabids who are off their tits on brains, medicated PDS sufferers and non-PDS humans. I had a really hard time finding anything in the manual that would let me do this, probably because I wasn't using the right search terms. I ended up setting up a custom value, which I'm still pretty sure was not the most efficient way to do it. This is an actual quote from my code: "Zombie is a kind of value. The zombies are violent, docile, and medicated. Lisa is a woman in The Moor. Lisa has a zombie. The zombie of Lisa is violent."
Oh speaking of brains, I went googling to find out how much sheep's brains cost to buy so that I could have the right amount of money in Patty's purse, only to discover that adult sheep's brains are banned from sale in the UK, because of CJD. So, I went with accuracy over canon-compliance there. Honestly though, Henry Lonsdale tripping balls on sheep's brains was one of my absolute favourite scenes from canon, so I knew I wanted to include a reference to the brains-rave somewhere.
The other thing I wanted to reference was Cherie, but creating the speech tables was so time intensive, that I didn't dare add another character to the game. Nevertheless, Cherie from the PDS brothel is one of those incredibly minor characters who absolutely fascinates me. Was she a sex worker before she died or is it something she's been driven to afterwards? We know why Philip goes to her, but it's doubtful that her other clients all want her to act out soppy fantasies about being in a stable relationship with Amy Dyer. You've got to ask yourself what goes on in a brothel where the unique selling point is that none of the employees is capable of feeling pain.
I tried to throw in some fun little Easter Eggs as responses for doing weird things. (Big thank you to Rosencrantz who turns out to be very good at doing weird things while beta-testing and is directly responsible for the game's responses if you try to eat people or put Vicar Oddie's grave in your pocket.) I also added a line about amoebas to everybody's speech tables so I could win this year's Yulechat challenge.
I'm not 100% happy with how it turned out and I really hate the title I picked, but overall I don't think it was too bad for a beginner attempt at Interactive Fiction and while it's not as popular as my other stories, I'm pretty proud of myself for having stepped out of the box and tried something new.
So that was my assignment. I was also responsible for an extremely silly Top Gear ficlet-and-associated-music-video, which dates back to 2007 or so when I'd just got into Top Gear fandom (so long ago that this was still on my old screenname) and was tossing around ideas for silly crossovers and being recklessly encouraged by Riona on the Top Gear crack community. Encouragement which led to both my Top Gear/Narnia crossover for Yuletide 2008 and a work in progress fanvid that has been sitting on my hard drive incomplete for the past six years under the filename AllRionasFault.mswmm
In the run up to Yuletide, I found it again, realised that the reason I hadn't been able to finish it was because it only made sense when combined with ridiculous backstory that existed only in my head. At which point I finished the vid, wrote up the backstory as a partner story to the vid and decided to give it to Riona for Christmas. I felt a bit weird gifting to somebody who wasn't doing Yuletide, but in the process of finding a beta for it somebody mentioned that their friend Melannen, who was doing Yuletide, was into both Les Mis and Top Gear and would really enjoy this particular brand of crack. So I decided to double-gift it.
It's not the smoothest vid in the world, but it exemplifies everything I enjoyed about Top Gear fandom while I was active in it, which is to say crack, crossovers and camaraderie. It is such a fun, friendly fandom and so unafraid of being ridiculous. <3
So those were the two fics I wrote, And The Bells Were Ringing Out, my In The Flesh text adventure and Registration Number 24601, my Top Gear/Les Mis crossover.
Now let's look at the awesome stuff I received...
Fireside Conversations by magdarko which was an utterly wonderful Malory Towers fic filled with well observed characterisation and all of my off-the-wall rarepair headcanon. I'm unreasonably annoyed that she has no other fic available in fandoms I share, because I was pretty sure the author wasn't somebody I knew and I was looking forward to reading all their other work.
First Night by el_staplador, a charming little Malory Towers drabble that was also about my rarepair of choice. Stap's written a huge number of other drabbles this year, so I'm working my way through the ones I know.
That's Not My Story by rmc28 and co-conspirators, a cute piece of Yuletide meta which is quite possibly the first drabble ever to boast six separate co-authors!
They Do It With Oobleck by neveralarch, a fun ficlet about my favourite Golden Age Magicians. Nev's was also quite prolific this year and has other works in the collection that I'm going to read if I know the fandom.
And my fifth and final gift was Expanded Horizons the #Yuletide choose-your-own-adventure which is either a work of non-fiction written by a traveller from a parallel universe, called Nanorhino or which was written by a friend from #Yuletide and has been attributed to a sock. For now, I'm choosing to believe the former, but if "Nanorhino" would like to make a reveals post I'd be very excited to read it.
So five gifts received, two gifts written. I did start a lot of treats that I never managed to finish, so here's hoping I can complete some of them and post them as NYRs to balance my karma a little!
- Yuletide Reveals Post