Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote in crowdfunding,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Review of The Many Writings of K.A. Jones

I actually wrote this last week and then didn't post it because I was busy with the Crowdfunding Creative Jam on Monday-Tuesday.  Here it is now.

This week I'm posting as a patron, and I'm reviewing one of my favorite crowdfunding projects.  I've been following "The Many Writings of K.A. Jones" since it began in July 2011.  I've waited this long before posting a review so that I could test out a bunch of the cool stuff and report on it.  See the "Welcome Page" for a general introduction and list of series, and "Information for Donors" on donations and perks.  The project has a prompt call for Halloween going now, if you want to jump right in.

The Project

kajones_writing currently runs about fourteen series.  Most are speculative fiction.  Stories are usually written in installments, although some are short enough to appear in one piece.  So far there are several dozen characters spread across the different series.  I'll start by mentioning some of the series that I support the most often.

Donor House is my top favorite.  It features an arrangement where humans volunteer to feed vampires in exchange for debt relief.  What I love about this series is the complexity of relationships among the characters.  The stories often touch on issues of community or family, and what it means to have a healthy relationship with someone.

Afterlife takes a look at what happens to people after they die.  Not tied to any one religion, it touches on many different beliefs and experiences.  Stories have explored how a person moves on, the guidance that is offered, and the opportunities in the afterlife.  Spirits in the afterlife also have various roles they can take to serve other people.

The Pagan Collection isn't speculative, but rather is Pagan fiction.  It follows some Pagan characters as they deal with various real-life challenges, not all of those involving religion.  A main plotline currently involves a woman who survived a severe car accident but now has near-total amnesia.

The project began with some meta posts and several stories that had already been written.  Some stories belonged to a specific series while others were random.  There have also been prompt calls, when people could request a story about a specific setting, character, and/or idea.  Those have been a great deal of fun as different audience members explore favorite motifs.  Something unique to this project was the Surprise Story Week, where people gave a number to randomly select a character for a story.  You could also give two numbers to create a pairing between any two characters (some of which would be alternate-universe). 

There has been at least one free story per month posted for everyone to see.  Some types of story, such as the privately prompted ones, are shared individually with the person(s) who inspired them.  These can be sponsored for publication, and there is a page of "Sponsorable Stories" so everyone can see what's available.  That page gets updated about once a week as unpublished stories go through the editing process.

Stories are affordable, and I've managed to sponsor two so far, both in the Donor House series: "John Good Road -- A Conversation with Nick" introduces a Lakota vampire as he attempts to explain the concept of a gift-based economy to someone accustomed to a cash-based economy.  "Echoes of Alexandria -- Nick and Alice's First Visit" takes place in a bookshop near the donor house, where the owner has invited a vampire to give a lecture on history.

The Credit System

Early on, the author encouraged audience members to interact, especially in terms of commenting on favorite stories to get them continued and in pointing out typos in stories.  This turned into rather a lot of interaction, which led to implementing a credit system.  Credits may be earned by such actions as finding typos, linking to the project, blogging about the project, commenting, prompting, and assistance with worldbuilding.  This system has been in testing for the last few weeks and recently reached the five participants needed to make it permanent.  With my editorial skills, I'm good at spotting typos, and I tend to do a lot of signal boosting for my favorite projects; so I've racked up a lot of credits and had great fun spending them.  Basically I'm bartering my skills and time for cool fiction and other goodies.

There are many options for spending credits, and I've explored most of them already.  So far these include:

 * Getting copies of unsponsored stories sent to you privately.  It's a good way to keep track of what's happening in the series you want to follow, even if you can't afford cash to sponsor all the stories you'd like to read.

 * Bonus material.  You can ask for descriptions of a setting, explanations about background concepts, timelines, and other things that you might be wondering about.  So for instance I inspired the post about "Vampire Eating Habits."

 * New fiction.  This can be either a continuation of a previous story, or a fresh story based on a prompt you suggest.  You get a private copy if the story isn't posted publically.  Among the stories I've prompted are "Friends with Death" (Afterlife), "Energy Healing" (The Magi), and "The Beginning of the House" (Donor House).

 * Character adoption.  It's a way to support your favorite characters, priced per month (in credits or in cash, your choice).  You get an adoption certificate and one story a month during the adoption period.  This really encourages people to get involved with characters they like.  So far I've adopted two characters, Richard/Death (Afterlife) and Morgan (Donor House).  I like their potential both as interesting individuals and as deepening action for their respective series.

 * Naming a character.  Random versions are cheaper; paying more credits gives you more control, up to naming a character in a specific series and getting a story about them.  This can have a big impact.  The only catch is that you can't adopt a character you've named, so that other people get a chance to play too.  I named the character John Good Road in the Donor House series, and I've continued to support him by requesting other stories about him.  Most vampires come from European descent and I wanted to introduce some cultural diversity.

 * Naming a permanent structure.  Again, this can be random, or for a higher price in a world of your choice.  Think about the influence that location has on action, and you can see how naming a place can open up new opportunities for stories.  I did this with the independent bookshop Echoes of Alexandria in the Donor House series, because I figured that it would help both donors and vampires avoid boredom and would make an interesting connection to the wider community.  Plus it's a way of reminding people that independent bookstores are awesome, even if your local store doesn't have vampire guest speakers.

The Interactivity

This project entails a high degree of connection between author and audience.  People are really encouraged to participate.  I've had some fun conversations with the author and, occasionally, with other audience members.  There are a lot of different activities going on.  Some I just enjoy as a patron; others have inspired me to try new perks in my own crowdfunding projects.

What I love most about "The Many Writings of K.A. Jones" is the worldbuilding.  The series that I've latched onto the most have a great deal of depth and complexity.  I can look at a core concept or an individual story and think about implications -- if this is happening now, then thus-and-such must have happened before, and it's likely to lead to so-and-so in the future.  Sometimes a single line will have a whole paragraph or page of implications packed into it. 

So then I get to dig into all of that and figure out what else could be done with the material.  I may want to explore how a decision will turn out or what a character will do next.  In the Pagan or Afterlife stories, I may get one or two new ideas out of each story.  In Donor House it can be half a dozen or more; for that series, I've actually started a notes file so I can keep track of prompts I want to make later.  I'm spending a lot of credits on stories in Donor House, but I try to spread around some to the other series I like as well.
Mainstream entertainment often doesn't go very deep, whether it is literature or film or whatever.  Plots don't hang together, characters behave in illogical or inconsistent way, there are blaring factual errors, and it just generally doesn't make much sense.  I like working with a writer who is willing to do some homework and try to make things match up.  So for instance, I'm pretty sure that Anna isn't going bump her head on a door and magically get all her memories back like a bad amnesia movie.  The characters in Deities World are pretty plausible renditions inspired by historic mythology but with explanations in place to allow some flexibility.

I really like being able to help with the research too.  If I give a prompt and it's something off the beaten path, which is pretty common for me, then I try to give enough detail and maybe a link or two so that the author can work with it.  I've looked up references for Lakota culture, gangs in England, addiction, Ethiopian restaurants, and assorted cosmologies just to name a few. 

I get bored with mainstream media because it tends to have a very limited range of plots and characters.  With crowdfunding, sometimes I find a writer or artist who is good at handling requests for different cultures or perspectives.  So then I can ask for diverse ethnicities and orientations and religions, or dilemmas that would make Hollywood choke up and bleat, and have a pretty high chance of getting something good back.  Sometimes I just throw out neat little things for fun, like the kind of stuff that I link to in my blog when I find a fun article.  I like to vary serious, plot-heavy content with lighter bits of humor or slice-of-life scenes.

The amount of fun I'm having with this project is also useful to me as a crowdfunding creator.  It reminds me that my audience members are having a great time helping me with the worldbuilding in my popular poetic series.  With crowdfunding, it's not a matter of one person taking and one person giving; it's a mutual exchange where everybody gets something out of it.

Finally, I'd like to mention some upcoming activities.  kajones_writing will begin a character and collection spotlight on November 1.  Audience members will be able to ask questions about a specific character or series.  There are also some new options coming, including handwritten hardcopies and choose-your-own ebooks.  Watch for these and other goodies on the main blog.

Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, from my prompts, horror, reading, review

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