This won’t hurt a bit…

Arabian Nights series, book one

Hmm, Saturday night, well fed and slightly lubricated from a couple of glasses of Baily & Baily Queen Bee, what to do? Watch Wonder Woman in 3D, or write a long-overdue blog post…? How long overdue? Um… 😊 Oh. It’s been over a year. Er, that’s perhaps a little more than merely embarrassing.

Brightens. Ah, I know – blog post then Wonder Woman – the perfect solution!

The big news, I suppose, is the release of my first erotic book (The End of the Game), but let me work up to that….

Arabian Nights series, book one
The End of the Game

So, what’s been happening since, ah, August 2016? Well, I made a start on exploring the adult mods for Skyrim – but then got distracted. I helped Aika, MG, Phaos and others a little on numerous new releases of Trap Quest – a very not-safe-for-work heavily illustrated text adventure game. (I also helped out a little on Perverted Education… do we see a pattern forming here?)  I discovered Discord when Aika set up a server for the game developers to chat, initially. But it grew almost instantly from there into a small and very quirky community with several NSFW chat channels, where I made quite a few digital friends. And discovered Leticia Latex, too – hi Leticia! – whose ‘kink’ is dollification and inflation.

Discord is a social media tool: think party-line text conversations that supports images, video, lots of emojis, voice calls and even video calls if you want, the ability to set up your own little server, or have private or invite-only group chats.

From the TQ Discord I was introduced to Second Life (SL), and found that quite enchanting, too. If you’re not aware of it, SL is a virtual 3D world which is basically a chat application, and is still very much in operation. You create an avatar – either a free one, or buy a more advanced model for ‘Linden dollars’ – and then wander about, through sub-worlds, perhaps just soaking up the scenery, perhaps chatting to passersby and locals as you see fit. And with the RLV (Restrained LoVe, gulp) relay enabled, you can allow things and people in the world to affect your avatar, up to and including some very adult roleplays. Which, I blushingly admit, I tried and enjoyed enormously.

Second Life can be all sorts of things – I discovered educational institutions there, including special interest and self-help and support groups of many, many kinds, from every corner of our very unpointy globe. SL does have a somewhat steep learning curve, so I’m sure I tested the patience of people I interacted with when I accidentally stripped off body parts instead of clothes, or wore boxes instead of the clothes contained inside, or bumped into people when trying to talk to them, or … well, let’s just say I still have a lot to learn.

Via Discord, I met Avi, and after some chatting decided to collaborate on my planned book series: Avi would illustrate them using his 3D modelling skills. You can check out more of his work at Avi0627’s DeviantArt Gallery or Avi-e-hentai. We both rolled up our sleeves and set to work.

Because it had been some years since I’d last visited my branch of the story in Milida’s Arabian Nights Gender Changing World ‘interactive fiction’ story, and my main character had gotten into quite a tangled set of problems, I started going back through my manuscript from the beginning, summarising as I went. Of course I polished and tightened what I had written, while also looking for possible tasty scenes that would be nice to see illustrated.

We found in practice that the most effective mode of collaboration was to share screens across the internet and talking while Avi worked and I gave feedback and suggestions. For both of us, the nuances of the scene are very important, and none more so than the characters’ expressions, reflecting what they’re thinking and feeling. But some back-of-the-envelope calculations made it obvious that if we created this as a single book, it would be too large: monstrously large. Which would push the price way up, just to handle Amazon’s bandwidth charges. More than that, though, I realised a single tome would be a monolith even in digital form; a pill far too large for any but a hardy one or two to swallow. Separate books made much more sense.

Anyway, Avi and I beavered away, and in due course I set a deadline for pre-release and we worked hard to meet that. Avi did his part – including a last minute change of one scene from daytime into a night scene, after I realised I had overlooked that fact when briefing Avi. Rewriting things to accommodate that would have rippled out and caused substantial work and perhaps even cause some plot changes, and Avi reworked it and added starlight and torches so quickly my jaw dropped.

The last step was to insert the images to produce the ebook and upload to Amazon. And that’s when things started going a little off the rails for me.

I was pretty confident I knew how to produce a nicely formatted and valid ebook using the excellent free software Calibre, and LibreOffice. Although I did have some qualms about LO’s handling of images – I’d recently made a just-for-fun document and found the images seemed to jump around in the text unexpectedly when I edited it.

Hoo boy.

Let me start off by saying that LibreOffice, the free and open-source office suite, is by and large amazingly good. And I’m happy to be using it for writing novels. But illustrated novels…? Well, read on.

I found it insanely hard to create a book with embedded images, mainly because LibreOffice is shockingly bad at this. If you google the topic, you’ll find people have been griping about it for years. Yes, images really do jump around in the document, leapfrogging up over earlier images that are tied to later paragraphs, sometimes mysteriously cover the text that should not be flowing under them (because wrapping is turned off), spontaneously change from anchored-to-the-paragraph to being anchored to a character, jump when you change the anchoring…. Nor can you trust the image ratios in the Properties dialogue (even if you Preserve the ratio), and sometimes changing the values here will do weird and unrelated squashing of the image, hide the caption, chop off the image, …. Fortunately, those last two errors are only in the display/refresh: if you close the file and reopen it, chances are the caption will reappear and the whole image will be displayed, not just some of the upper half.

Things got so bad that I happened to share some of my thoughts with friends on Discord as I worked, which perhaps is what saved my sanity. It also gives me a ‘running commentary’ of the final couple of hours of my day long battle as the deadline raced closer and closer. Which I present without further ado in the hopes of your sympathy.

Warning: the following transcript contains strong language.

Yes… got the caption to appear above by setting Auto Caption, and choosing Above – but that prevents you from writing a description of the illustration, it seems! Grrr….
Oh my god! That worked: inserting afresh and choosing the obvious option, that I failed to notice somehow! (Position: defaults to Below; but you can choose Above)
And so does editing the properties, without re-inserting, provided I also change this mysteriously-reset other parameter that should have no effect…!
It’s still fighting back. Now the images shrink, and get chopped in half. But that will be a bug. Maybe closing and reopening will reveal what it really looks like…
Ah ha! Kind of. Re-opening shows the image has been distorted. But if I do this… yes – perfect!
Panting. Now to see if I can go back and get as good a result with the 1st image… Bites nails.
Panting again. Okay, closing and reopening gets it back as it was. Let’s try again.
Change it to Anchored to Page, first.
Now: Properties: Uncheck ‘Width relative to paragraph’…
Fuuck! Now width and height go bizarro!
Okay, click ‘Original Size’…
Now manually set Height to 820, with Keep Ratio still checked, and click OK, with fingers crossed….
Erh… maybe… But the caption is invisible.
Let’s reduce the height to 800…
Dammit. Where’s the caption gone?
The… the whole frame containing the image, with its caption, jumped to a fresh new page, afterwards. Leaving the image on the previous page. THAT MAKES NO SENSE!
Delete image.
Delete frame.
More panting.
Okay. Re-insert image.
Anchor to Page.
Resize to 820 pt tall.
Copy caption from old Table of Illustrations.
Insert caption above
Scrolling down to image 2…
Its caption has vanished!
Hmm, why is the Properties dialogue hinting the caption is at the bottom…?
Don’t trust it… Save, then close and reopen…
Yes! Oh, you sneaky f*cker! Image 2 was just fine!
Swallows, shaking slightly.
Okay… Let’s update the Table of Illustrations and check it hasn’t become corrupted…
All the hyperlinks have vanished from the Table of Illustrations! Grr. Right, you bastard…
Edit Index…
Insert hyperlink Start (LS), and End (LE) around the ‘Entry’: for the twelfth time, grrr.
Update Index… and the hyperlinks are restored.
Right. Save.
Okay… Image 3…
Properties… now, what was that incantation…?
Anchor: not to character, you asshole! I set it to Paragraph! What keeps changing that?!
Okay, and now change Position from Vertical Top to Vertical Bottom, and OK…
Yes! Oh – no. Caption is now at the top, but image has been squashed, grrr!
Set Width relative to Entire page, not Paragraph. Uncheck Width Relative
And image dimensions go wacko: height gets set to Width!
Okay, don’t hit OK yet, let’s see if we can fix that, first…
Set Height to… 820pt… OK…
Hmm. Too much and… WTF?!
Grinds teeth.
Oh, you liar! You have not preserved the aspect ratio, you’ve stretched it sideways. Grrr. And the caption has vanished.
Save, close, reopen…
Yeah, right. Caption is there, where it should be. But image is fat.
Grinds teeth again.
Oh, you sneaky liar. 780/565.5 = 1.3793, 841.85/595.25 = 1.4142!
Oh, you complete bastard liar! You even lied about the Original aspect ratio and size! 1250/781 = 1.6005
Resizing to 800×500 gets it unsquashed – looking normal – and the caption reappears.
Looks up with a slightly hysterical expression.
Licks lips.
Now let’s see if I can repeat that!
But first, let’s Save!
Uh oh… there’s a page of text missing, and that image is in the wrong place. Grinds teeth
I bet the text has somehow slipped under it.
But Wrap is off, for both, so that should not be possible.
I can do this.
Okay. Delete Image 3…
Dammit. And image 4, too.
Ah! There’s the hidden text.
Let’s try again. Get the caption for image 3 from the ToI…
Okay… Image 3 reinserted; caption looks good… no text hidden… image not distorted.
Right: grab caption text for image 4 from Table of Illustrations. Find place to insert it…
Okay! Good! Save…
Update Index for Table of Illustrations… Oh! Hyperlinks all vanish again!
Edit Index… Reinsert them… OK… Update Index… back again. Grr.
Right. Delete Illustration 5. And its frame and caption…
Wrap Off…
Insert caption… Paste text… Choose Top… OK.
Good! Save that.
Okay… Update index… hyperlinks still there… go to image 6….
Starts giggling insanely. Oh, look, illustration 7 has moved up before it! How clever!
Deletes illustration 7; and 6. And captions.
Ohh! Look at all the magical blank pages!
Oh! And a single character deletion removes both of them!
Okay… insert image 6… Wrap Off… Insert Caption… paste text… Choose Above… hit OK…
Okay, image 7 done…
And 8…. All looks good. Update indexes… Save as a .docx… open calibre… Add files to selected book records… Convert to .mobi…
All done!

In May 2014, recommended putting images in tables. I didn’t try that.

(I spent a day reproducing the bugs and preparing data files so that I can make good reports for the LO developers in the hope that they’ll be able to find and fix the problems, with that information. It’s on my list of things to do soon. It’ll take a full day, though: I think there were over twenty different but related bugs, in the end.)

And then the fun started as I tried to get a good file to upload to Amazon. I tried loading .odt, .docx, .rtf, HTML into Calibre and converting them to .mobi or .epub; I tried uploading the raw .docx, and the raw HTML. All approaches had problems. A few were invisible errors in my LibreOffice document (e.g. I had set Include These Paragraphs in line Numbering at some stage, for a few paragraphs at the beginning, and I hadn’t noticed. Removing numbering fixed that.)

But I could find no way to have both a table of contents and a table of illustrations. Calibre apparently will only generate one. So I merged them into a single table.

The worst problem was getting the images appearing correctly. In the end, the best I could do was have each image appear twice: because the alternatives were to have some images appear like small preview images first (sometimes embedded in the body text, sometimes with part of the caption jammed up against it, squashing the image). At least this way, the reader always get to see a full size image; the downside is they sometimes see a similar-sized image first, otherwise a small image first.

Calibre reasonably faithfully shows this: when you view the converted file, if you see the image twice, it will be there twice. But in every version I created where each image appeared just once, then some or all of the images appeared with problems: sometimes only small, embedded in the text, sometimes squashed (even distorted), sometimes covering some of the caption, sometimes with the caption stuck to the left, squeezing the image to a thumbnail size alongside it. It was horrible.

I think it was a week later, after beating my head against this problem, I realised it was another image-related LibreOffice bug: when saving to anything except it’s own format, for some reason it saves two copies of each image. And Calibre prefers to import .docx files, not LibreOffice .odt files. So the workaround was to ditch LO for the .docx and read the .docx into WPS and redo the images using its facilities. In contrast to LO, it worked flawlessly, and I converted its .docx using Calibre and uploaded a new .mobi file to Amazon.

So that’s a summary of the creation of Book 1 in the Arabian Nights series, The End of the Game. (It should be available at lots of ebook retailers, not just Amazon; e.g. Smashwords) Incidentally, both the name for the series, and the name for Book 1, came from Avi, after much discussion back and forth. Here’s the blurb:

In a future heavily dependent on augmented reality, you get yourself deep in trouble in an immersive VR game.

With a universal basic income following the peaceful ‘AI revolution’, and direct neural links to immersive digital worlds, most people now choose to live and socialize via virtual reality. You are John Lemure, one of the best and most highly respected fantasy adventure gamers, with many millions of followers sharing and observing your experiences in one challenging fantasy setting after another.

You’ve had numerous hair-breadth escapes, enjoyed many astonishing sexual experiences, and acquired enormous in-game wealth and a large harem in the misogynistic male-dominated virtual world of the Arabian Nights. 

In fact, you could say the game is just ending….

Major themes: erotica, sci-fi, fantasy, gender change, transformations, virtual reality, fantasy, forced feminization, harem, male to female, femdom, humiliation.
Length: 28,000 words of story (not samples, promos, or excerpts).

About this saga:

This is book one of an erotic, gender-changing fantasy saga of ten to twelve books. It contains eight illustrations created specifically for the story by the talented digital artist Avi. Told in the 2nd person – “You look around and see…” – this tale grew from an idea on one small branch of Milida’s Arabian Nights Gender Changing World collaborative fiction. As such, the first three and a half chapters of this 1st book were written by Mr George, Milida, Norman33, and Charcoal, and are included with their permission. Although I’ve adjusted those chapters to suit my purposes, please be aware you’ll first be reading 4,700 words by these other talented people (after a short sample of my own writing). If you want to read an early, un-illustrated draft of this story – or any of the hundreds of other possible paths our hero could have taken – check out the writing dot com site.

Which I think is probably a fair point at which to end this blog post. Now, to watch Wonder Woman – good night, all! Hugs.