Saturday, June 8, 2013

"MonuMental: The Hack's Back" by Steven O'Connor

MonuMental: The Hack's Back
by Steven O'Connor

Steven O'Connor joins me today to discuss MonuMental, the sequel to EleMental. Make sure you check out my previous blog post on the first book in the series EleMental: A First-person Shooter. Don't forget to enter the giveaway below for your chance to win one of two paperback copies of EleMental.

Set one year on from EleMental, Zeb has developed the ability to use his gameblur as a powerful weapon, the untouchable gap between Willis and Arizona grows wider than ever, and unknown to the three of them,someone deadly is trapped in an obsolete corner of virtual space - and he wants out. Zeb's potent gameblur power is the answer.
And as the three of them battle to escape the extraordinary world they have stumbled into, they befriend another v'gamer, a mysterious, beautiful girl named Trinity, who leads them to question their very existence.
MonuMental is designed to be enjoyed either as a standalone book or as Book 2 in the EleMental series. It's up to you!

Chapter 1: Here come we pigs, fifty shades of pink

Willis had been playing an open-world military v’game for hours. Pig Army, it was called. It was a part of the ever-popular Mean Pig v’game series, featuring a seemingly limitless number of ill-mannered pigs in varying shapes, sizes and shades of pink.
And he was growing bored. He hadn’t seen Zeb in some time. And Arizona not at all.
He was lying flat in a trench, clad in army commando gear, gray and green in color and the pattern of broken fried eggs. When he heard a scuffling sound ­– at last! something! ­– he raised his head slightly over the trench’s rim to see.
And looked straight into Zeb’s muddy face. Zeb was wearing a metal helmet decorated with leaves and twigs, and otherwise was similarly dressed to Willis, and also lay on his stomach. Behind him lay a stretch of land pocked with blasted trees and the wrecks of combat vehicles – ziptanks mostly, their cannons pointing upward as if they were giving the world the big finger.
 ‘Where’ve you been?’ asked Willis. ‘A whole battalion of militia pigs has dug in just over the rise behind you. And they’ve been getting pretty active with their jumbo mortar-guns. Didn’t you hear the booming? Real super-surround stuff. We need to work out a plan before they gain the upper hand. Or whatever it is in the case of pigs. Hoof? Forequarter?’
Before either could say another word, a sheet of sound hit them, knocking Willis backward and almost dragging Zeb over the edge of the trench. Willis lay face up, gawking at the columns of dirt with flames at their hearts coiling upward.
‘Trotter,’ Zeb said.
‘Oh yeah. Thanks.’
Zeb scrambled to his feet and gazed up at the sight, legs apart, hands on his hips, godlike.
‘Was that your doing?’ Willis asked.
Zeb looked down at him, his eyes wide. ‘I crept around right under their unsuspecting noses. I didn’t even need a v’game weapon.’
‘Unsuspecting snouts,’ corrected Willis.
‘Oh yeah. Thanks.’
‘Score,’ said a bodiless male v’voice in the air over them. ‘ZoominAudaciousZeb – fifty points, and earning him a reward weapon: the ba-ba-ba-boom-bazooka.’
An oversized weapon with an arrangement of levers along its thick cylinder and rear end, looking like some alien tuba, snapped into existence. It pulsated with a blue glow, as if hovering next to Zeb’s right shoulder wasn’t enough to bring it to his attention.
Willis laughed. ‘You and that new v’name of yours – ZoominAudaciousZeb. I still can’t get over it.’
‘What’s wrong with it?’
‘It’s long, for a start.’
Zeb looked affronted. ‘I came up with it in a hurry. And anyway, you can talk, WillisTheDragonslayer. What the hell’s that all about?’
Willis shrugged. The first time they entered the new Plush Plus v’space they had to identify themselves in the v’gaming community’s live zone, the Plush Orbital. Anxious to get straight into the v’play, they were perhaps a little hasty over their v’names.
‘It sounded good at the time,’ Willis said feebly.
‘Please collect your weapon,’ the v’voice reminded Zeb.
‘Forget it, game,’ Zeb said. ‘I don’t need it.’ The large weapon by his shoulder wobbled, then vanished.
Willis sat up straight in the trench. ‘You’re knocking back a ba-ba-ba-boom-bazooka?’
‘Have you tried firing one of those ginormous things? And besides, like I said, I’ve discovered I don’t need v’game weapons.’
Willis peered out at the blackened, smoky landscape. A chill descended over him. ‘What do you mean, you didn't need a weapon?’
Zeb grinned. ‘I used moi.’
‘I mean just now. To defeat that whole pig army.’
‘You’re not listening, Wil Boy. All I needed was me! I ran out of weapons – again, you know me. And I was really wishing I had some bombs. Ones I could plant around.’ He barked out a laugh. ‘And what do you know! My fingers suddenly sprouted little flames.’ He held up his hands, peering over the tips of his fingers. ‘You can imagine my surprise. But it didn’t hurt. And I discovered I could flick the flames onto the ground. Wherever I wanted! Little firebombs, that’s what I’d somehow created. Or fire crackers from hell; maybe I’ll call them that. Or finger bombs. Ooh, I like that last one.’
‘It’s got to be gameblur. It’s coming out of you while you’re v’gaming. Zeb, tell me I’m wrong.’
Zeb didn’t say anything.
‘Oh God, I’m right.’
‘So what? It was awesome. Why shouldn’t I use it, if I can?’
‘Because it’s cheating?’
Zeb tightened his lips. ‘No it’s not. It’s just my own special brand of v’gaming, a part of what I’m discovering I can do.’
‘Yeah? Well, who cares? Cheating’s one of the fun parts of v’gaming. Everybody knows that.’
Willis drew his knees to his chest and hugged his legs. ‘We’ve no idea where it could lead. Nowhere good, that’s for sure.’
‘Plenty of others are capable of gameblurring too.’
‘Not without blowing their minds on Fast, like some asteroid miner, they’re not. And then, never as fiercely as you.’
‘You’re jealous, because you can’t. Hey, maybe you can? You should try. Stop being a gutless wuss all the time.’
Willis glared at Zeb. ‘I can’t and I won’t. And I’m not a wuss. We should be cautious.’
They turned in the direction of a motor hum that was growing louder. Still in the trench, it took Willis a moment to see. A jeep sped toward them in a cloud of dust, its wheel axles springing up and down as it zigzagged around mounds and trenches. When it reached them, it swerved to a halt, spitting up dirt. A teenage girl leaped out from behind the wheel. She wore a satin dress with a wide grenade belt strapped about her waist. An army beret sat to one side on her head. Tilted.
They both waved. ‘Hey there, Arizona.’
‘a2zee, if you don’t mind.’
‘Oh wow,’ Willis said. Trust Arizona to come up with the best name. And he knew exactly how she’d spell it. The coolest possible way. His name now seemed extra lame plus. At least Zeb’s was still awful.
‘What have you been up to, dressed like that?’ Zeb asked her.
‘Undercover, back in the enemy town. I’ve been mingling with the generals in their clubs.’
Zeb frowned. ‘You’d have stood out a mile.’
‘Not one bit. I let go off my piggy avatar as I drove back here.’
‘I wished I’d seen,’ Willis said. ‘I’ll bet it was still beautiful. In a piggy way.’
Arizona rolled her eyes. ‘It was okay, for a girl pig. And I got some great intel on enemy movements. We can gain the advantage if we’re quick.’
Willis pointed in the direction of the one-time enemy. ‘Too late. They’ve all been wiped out by ZoominAudaciousZeb here.’ He wondered if he should also mention how Zeb had done the deed. But Zeb might mock him again – and in front of Arizona. He wasn’t a wuss!
‘Oh,’ Arizona said. ‘So, v’game over?’
Zeb smiled with pride. ‘And by the way, Wil Boy, you can stop calling me that. I’m Zaz now. Attention Plus, did you get that?’
‘Confirmed,’ said the female voice of the Plush Plus.
Willis groaned. ‘How’d you come up with that?’
‘ZoominAudaciousZeb for short.’ He raised his arms majestically. ‘I’m Zaz, the man with the razzmatazz pizzazz.’
‘Jeez. Spare us, please.’ Willis dug his heels into the dirt. He hadn’t realized you could change your name so easily. ‘That leaves me the only one stuck with something crap.’
Arizona giggled and put on a mock-dramatic voice. ‘WillisTheDragonslayer.’
‘Don’t rub it in.’
‘Well, maybe you’ll come up with something pretty zoomin someday,’ Zeb said. ‘Meanwhile, who's ready to load up another v’game? I downloaded a bargain last night.’
‘What?’ Willis asked.
‘It’s a surprise.’
‘Please, say it’s not more pigs.’
‘Can I push it across to your consoles or not?’
Willis looked at Arizona.
She gestured in a whatever way.
‘Attention Plus,’ Zeb said. ‘This is Zaz. That v’game I downloaded last night? Include the consoles of WillisTheDragonslayer and a2zee in it.’
‘Confirmed proceeding deducting credits due from WillisTheDragonslayer and a2zee completed.’ Zeb’s request had been acted out so speedily the progress report came out as a single sentence with no breaks.
‘Lock and load,’ Zeb said.
‘Wait,’ Willis cried. ‘You’ve forgotten to fold up this v’game first.’
‘Oops,’ said Zeb. ‘Hopefully the Plus can handle both.’
The folding up of a v’game always startled Willis, you never knew the order in which parts of the virtual environment ripped into the air, becoming many spinning chips, chunks and shards, before massing into a single dot and disappearing with a pop! If there was logic to it, he could never work it out. And that was nothing compared to what he was about to witness: the unfolding of a new v’game during the folding of one you were done with.
Folding: the surface beneath Willis flattened upward, causing the trench to disappear and throwing him airborne as if from a trampoline. He landed with a thud on his bum beside Arizona and Zeb. He climbed to his feet as …
Unfolding: a rainbow entirely composed of shades of pink stretched over the battlefields. A multitude of pigs hurtled over the rainbow, a host of sparkling, pink stars dancing about them, twirling from their snouts to their curling tails, as …
Folding: Arizona’s jeep lifted off the ground, its wheels hanging loose from their axles, and began to revolve in the air, as …
Unfolding: the many pigs landed at their pot-o’-pink-gold destination at the end of the rainbow and shrieked and oinked in hog-symphonic delight. A pumping tune struck up behind their racket and a chorus squealed out: ‘Here come we pigs, fifty shades of pink. Here come we pigs, and we stink, stink, stink.’ They danced upright on spindly hind legs, as …
Folding: hidden enemy pig soldiers (oh! Willis realized, there was more fighting on this level after all) plunged from tree branches or emerged dazed from behind defense shields camouflaged as small shrubberies, bewilderment across their snouty faces, seeing battlefields, complete with blasted trees and smoldering ziptanks, trembling and lurching into the air, as …
Unfolding: the new pigs lined up in rows, their many weapons – rifles, spears, sparking electric rods, axes, bazookas, baseball bats, nunchucks, broken bottles, Tasers, bow and arrows, pepper sprays, handheld multi-staged thermonuclear fission bombs, penknives … to name but a few – held aloft in readiness. And there were new words to the song they chanted. ‘We’re the missing link, the link that’s pink, pink, pink. We’re the missing link, the stinky pink, pink link. And we’re takin’ it, t-t-takin’ it. We’re takin’ it, t-t-takin’ it.’ They spun their weapons above their heads. ‘Where we takin it?’ squealed a small pig stepping forward at the front. ‘We’re takin’ it to the brink!’ they chimed, brandishing their weapons, as …
Folding: the whirling vortex ate up the last of the ragged battlefield and panicky pig soldiers – and disappeared with a pop!
Unfolding: leaving only the new v’game, called …

By Solo
This book picks up where Book 1 left off in the series, yet fully capable of standing on its own. The book gives a futuristic look at the world of video games, avatars and players. If you were a fan of EleMental, you will surely be a fan of MonuMental. If you are looking for a fun sci-fi ride between the real and virtual world, try MonuMental.

Interview With the Author
Hi Steven O’Connor, thanks for joining me today to discuss your new book MonuMental: The Hack’s Back.
You’re welcome.

Which writers have influenced you the most?
C. S. Lewis, Douglas Adams and, more recently, Neil Gaiman and Anne Tyler.

What age group do you recommend your book for?
Eleven up.

What sparked the idea for this book?
MonuMental is my follow up to EleMental. The original idea in EleMental was to write about a futuristic video game that was so addictive it came on virtually all about you, even when you were no longer playing it. I am a professional social worker and I’ve worked in drug addiction, and so I used those experiences to inform the story idea.

Now, in MonuMental, I’ve stepped away from the whole addiction thing, and I’m instead exploring the idea of confusion of identity. For example, ‘What if you’re in a video game and you begin to question if you are in fact real and not just a video game character?’ I had fun exploring that.

Also, I’d like to say, even though MonuMental is a follow up to EleMental, I have written it in such a way that you can also enjoy it by itself. You don’t have to have read EleMental first.

That's great to know, Steven. Which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
That’s actually a hard question to answer, because usually one or two of the characters come along with the idea. They are a part of the package. So it’s not just ‘What if ....’ it’s ‘What if this happened to this person ...’ And then as I write, other characters will present themselves. So it’s a mix of both.

What was the hardest part to write in this book?
The ending. It is left open to a degree. To allow for a third and final book, which I’d like to write if there’s interest. I feel a little guilty that some of my characters are still out there, waiting to have things sorted out for them. I don’t want to say anymore without spoiling things.

How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope they are pulled along by the thriller action, intrigued by the interesting predicaments, and are left thinking by some of the more deeper notions I explore. And I hope they laugh at the funny bits.

How long did it take you to write this book?
Approximately 12 months. I threw myself into it when the publisher asked for it. But then when circumstances changed, and they could no longer publish it, it took me quite a while to learn how to indie publish it (which I have done with EleMental as well).

What is your writing routine?
To write wherever and whenever I can. It’s the only way for someone like me. I’m a dad with a busy family, and I also have a busy job as a social worker. I can’t afford to tuck myself away and quietly write undisturbed, like some writers might be able to (though possibly that’s only Stephen King). I need to be visible to my family, but I need to be writing too. So I just grab moments as they present themselves.

How did you get your book published?
My first book (EleMental) took a long time to get published, because that was back in the days before eBooks. It took nearly ten years, even though the manuscript had won a national mentorship award.

The second one, MonuMental, has been published through the indie process. It is only available as an eBook. I like to think that maybe one day a traditional publisher might like to publish a print version, but I will always publish the eBooks myself from now on – as is becoming the indie way!

What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Don’t be backwards about your writing, like I was for many years. Always feel proud of what you create, but never release your writing into the wild until you’re sure it’s your absolute best. You’ll be able to judge what’s your best by reading one or two of the many excellent books on writing out there, such as Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing, which I always recommend.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love music. All kinds. Always have. In fact, music plays a big influence on my writing. So I’m always listening to music, even when I’m writing. I also love TV shows, especially fictional shows, rather than documentaries. And I love playing video games, though I’m not very good at them, as my son regularly points out. The first video game I loved was Space Invaders.

And of course I love to read.

What does your family think of your writing?
You really do have some interesting questions. (Thanks, Steven, I try.)

Sometimes, after you have lived with an idea or an image for a while, you get so used to it you forget it may appear odd to your children or your wife, for example my ptechnodactyls and my dragonbot. They have a good laugh when they hear me talking about them.

However, I am also mindful not to talk about my latest writing project all of the time, lest I drive them mad.

It sounds like and interesting household! Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I was born in Luton, England, a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. As my childhood was in a different country (I live in Australia now), it feels more like a book I once read than something that actually happened. I guess that’s because none of those places and people, apart from my family, are in my life now. Or have been for so long.

I remember how colorful English springs could be. I remember family outings to London to see the Christmas lights. I remember playing pooh sticks on the town’s River Lee. The river would disappear underground for what felt like miles and I would have to run for ages through bombed-out buildings to reach where it would appear again, and wait, hoping to see my stick emerge.

Let me just add, I love Australian autumns. But you asked about my childhood!

Never mind, Steven; that was a great insight. Did you enjoy school?
No I didn’t, unfortunately. I was a migrant kid (from the UK) and there was a lot of bullying. I was just too different. Long hair. Accent. Bangles (I was into glam rock, which was the big thing back then. Bolan and Bowie.) Some days I dreaded leaving the house to go to school. Others in my family had it far worse than me. Oh dear, this interview has turned sad.

Let's brighten it up then. Did you like reading when you were a child?
Good, back to happy things. Yes, I certainly did. The weirder the world that I could escape into, the better.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
1968. I was nine. I have included a short piece about this time in my short story eBook MotherCraft.

Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
Absolutely. That was when I developed a love for all things sci-fi and fantasy. I lived with Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Fireball XL5, UFO, Space: 1999 and Dr Who in my mind the whole time. Still do.

What was your favorite book as a child?
The Forgetful Robot. I have no idea who wrote it (Paul W. Fairman), but being my first book makes it my favorite. I had such a sense of satisfaction after I’d finished it. A whole novel! I recall – reaching back through the years now with my fading memory – that it was about a rather lonely robot lost on the moon. Maybe I related to the robot. I was a lonely child. Especially at the time I read that book. Oddly enough, I went on to read a number of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple books after that. I think it was whatever the school librarian gave me, who had taken me under her wing for a while. (Told you I was lonely!)

Lord of the Rings is an equal favorite. (Naturally.)

Who were your favorite authors as a child?
All the usual suspects: Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, H. G. Wells, Jules Verne ...

Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I love hearing from readers! I can’t get enough of it. Until very recently they always asked when my follow-up to EleMental would be out (MonuMental). Admittedly it has taken a while, due to the closing of the publishing house I was with. That was one of the things that drove me to indie self-publishing. It was with great relief when I managed to publish MonuMental a few months ago, so I could tell readers that it was out at last.

What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I have this draft ‘sitting in the bottom drawer’ as they say (it’s really just on my hard drive), that I’m looking forward to getting back to. I find it’s good to put your first draft away if you can, and come back to it later with fresh eyes. I loved writing it, however there’s always a fear that you’ll hate it when you look again. So hopefully that won’t be the case. It’s currently called Under the Garden. That’s all I’ll say about it at this stage, but thanks for asking.

Thanks so much for joining me today, Steven. It's been a pleasure getting to know you.
And thanks for your many interesting questions.

About the Author
Steven O'Connor writes young adult fiction with a futuristic bent. His writing is influenced by Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), Blade Runner, Dr Who, and just about every sci-fi film and TV show you could possibly think of.
His initial manuscript for EleMental: A First-person Shooter won him a coveted Young Adult Fiction Writers' Mentorship at the national Varuna Writers' Center in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia. Book 2 in the series, MonuMental: The Hack's Back, can be read as a sequel or as a stand-alone book. Steven has also written the short story, MotherCraft, which started out as a flashback scene in EleMental.
When Steven is not writing, he's a professional social worker and he's passionate about his work with young people.
Originally from Luton, England, Steven O'Connor now lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife, two teenage children and Sparks, his ever-attentive, ever-hungry Cavalier King Charles spaniel (AKA a toy dog, AKA canny writing assistant).

Steven has kindly donated two EleMental paperbacks (featuring the original cover art) for our giveaway, which is open internationally. So, if you love your paperbacks, be sure to enter.