The Song of Saya

The latest visual novel I played was called THE SONG OF SAYA. Let me tell you, for a game that came out almost twenty years ago, it feels like it hasn’t aged a day. There’s so much care given to its story and characters. It’s full of truly grotesque moments and the ending I got really resonated. As a visual novel, it has multiple possible endings. I won’t spoil anything, but if you like movies like David Cronenberg’s THE BROOD, you’ll find a LOT to love in SONG OF SAYA.

I can’t believe I’d never even heard of it before a couple of weeks ago. Well, I guess I can believe it, since I’m still relatively new to gaming. Though I used to play as a kid and teenager, I didn’t start gaming in my adult life until last year. Still, you’d think a game like this would be more popular. Anyway, it absolutely should be.

It’s pretty cheap on Steam, just saying.

When I started playing games again a year ago, I didn’t think of it as part of my writing life. It was more along the lines of something I did to wind down. Relax.

Don’t get me wrong. Games can be good for that. I especially love beat em ups, shoot em ups, and (oddly enough) strategy. But visual novels, man. They feel like a genre after my own heart. With a little bit of work, I could see myself making one someday. I’m not showing my hand here or promising anything. But it’s something that’s definitely crossed my mind. I just don’t want to get ahead of myself. Pacing is so important for me so as not to feel overwhelmed by all the things I have in the pipeline.


This weekend, I put down a few thousand words on my collaboration with Wesley Southard. It’s really coming together nicely. Wes has some serious writing chops, a healthy level of enthusiasm, and he’s fun to work with. I’m glad this second entry in my accidental trilogy (composed of collaborations and tributes to existing works) is with him. We’re tipping the hat to the films of Lucio Fulci this time.

I always say write the kinds of books you want to read. Lots of people have said it before me, but it’s something I absolutely vibe with. Doing books modeled after films I love–first with PANDEMONIUM, now with the Fulci book–feels like the most natural thing in the world right now. I think that sense of fun carries over to the writing and makes it fun for the reader, too.


White Trash Occultism, the show I cohost with Kelby Losack and J. David Osborne, seems to be finding its legs. We’ve got two episodes up and two more in the can. We’ll be recording episode 5 this week and then taking a week or two off. My daughter will be born any day now, so to mitigate my mental adjustment, I want to take a couple weeks to just be with my family. In the meantime, you can check out the show on my YouTube channel, or the audio on Kelby’s podcast Heathenish Radio. It honestly probably needs its own YouTube channel, but I’m not in a rush.


That’s it for now. This week will be spent compiling ONE AND ONLY, PART 1 for the eventual digital release and tinkering with an outline for a top secret project I’ll be starting in March or April.

Visual Novels & Tonal Shifts

I’ve spent a good portion of this week playing DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB. It’s a game that came out about four years ago in the visual novel genre. For those not in the know, a visual novel is a game that’s designed like one of those old “choose your own adventure” books. It’s an interactive story, complimented by art and visuals, but the graphics are a lot simpler than traditional games.

This game has completely absorbed my imagination. You play a high school boy who joins a literature club at the urging of his female friend Sayori, only to find it populated by three other ridiculously cute young women. The apparent object of the game is to woo one of these girls with your poetry, but there’s an important twist. DOKI DOKI isn’t a dating sim, it’s a horror game. And when the horror comes, my GOD. It doesn’t jab you in the face or kick you in the gut. It takes a pipe wrench to your kneecaps and puts a slug in the back of your head.

I’m not finished with the game yet, but with its darker elements now in gear, I’m even more engrossed than I was before. The tonal shift is so dramatic. The structure of the story, so surreal. It’s a wonder why such dramatic changes aren’t used more often in art.

I have my suspicions about American audiences wanting their serviceable, formulaic stories. Art that doesn’t challenge them too much and never makes them feel unsafe. I’ve nothing against that sort of thing, BUT I think it is important to challenge ourselves sometimes. It’s important to step out of our comfort zones. A dramatic tonal shift in the story your telling can be a huge boon for that story. I’m not sure if I can find a way to do it in my free ongoing serial ONE AND ONLY, but it is something I want to keep in mind for it, and future projects.

From what I understand, Asian cinema has been employing these dramatic tonal shifts for a while now. Outside of the original FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, I can’t think of any American movies that have embraced this technique.

I think the reason that a shift in tone or genre can be so effective is that life is not one genre. So, even if your story is pulpy and larger than life, a dramatic tonal shift will affect your audience in a visceral way. It will make your unreal work seem more real, at least on a primal subconscious level, because the change will mirror the changes present in life. Life has moments of tenderness, horror, somberness, joy, and laughs. Oftentimes, these moods shift with little warning. Sometimes when the change comes, it takes a pipe wrench to your kneecaps and puts a slug in the back of your head.

That’s not always the experience I want with my fiction–I like a good Marvel movie like anyone else–but it’s something I’d like to see more often. More irreverence. Weirdness. Tonal shifts that take you in a whole new genre. That’s the shit that sings to me.


Some of you may remember that I have a Twitch channel that I mostly ignore. After I’ve played through DOKI DOKI, I’ll probably play it again and stream the experience there. Playing visual novels is probably the most comfortable way for me to use that channel.