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The Mystery of Paradise Island

By Samuel Stoddard

The Origin of the Story

I wrote my first novel, an epic fantasy, when I was 17 years old. Before that point, I had written almost a hundred short stories, but this, by far, was the most ambitious project I had ever undertaken. It was far more grueling than I could have imagined. But it was also far more exhilarating. A wide world of storytelling opened up before me, and I started planning the books I would write next.

I never wrote any of them. I did get about a third done with a sequel before getting stuck, but college disrupted my capacity for such long, focused projects. And then came RinkWorks. I can't even tell you what an amazing thing this web site has been for me: an outlet and an audience for virtually every creative urge in me -- except for writing fiction. Thanks to RinkWorks, I was able to write humor, make some games, talk about movies, everything but actually write those novels I always wanted to. Keeping RinkWorks going just didn't leave me with eight or ten consecutive months to devote to a book.

Thus, I was 34 before I finally got back to writing another novel. (Now I joke that I'll write book every 17 years. I'll be 51 for the next one!) Ironically, it was RinkWorks, that great thing that had stopped me from writing, that brought it about.

Twice a year since 2006, I've run an Ultimate Bot Tournament in RinkChat. Mostly they're fun competitions that involve playing a battery of chat bot games. For the third one, though, I started telling a story during it (using random photographs from the Internet as character illustrations), and the result was far more rewarding than I could have expected. So for the fourth one, I decided I'd try something more ambitious and tell a serious mystery thriller story.

To my own amazement as much as anybody's, the story that resulted from this exercise proved to be immensely satisfying to me, something that I felt had dramatic power despite the inevitable moments of humor. The final session of the tournament, when I told the climactic final act of the story, might be the most fun I've ever had doing something for RinkWorks. It was not long afterward that I realized that the story would adapt well to a novel, and since I had fallen in love with the characters over the course of the tournament, I could not resist the opportunity to spend more time with them. And spend more time with them I did. I started writing in February 2008, finished the rough draft in June, and finalized the manuscript in November.

The novel gave me the chance to flesh the story out, fill in some holes, and develop backstories where they were lacking. In the end, I don't think the novel betrays its unlikely origins. In retrospect, the chat version of the story served as my outline.

Although it came second, I regard the novel as the canonical telling of the story. Therefore, I recommend reading the novel first, then reading the chat transcripts afterward. The chat transcripts are entertaining in their own right, containing moments of humor and on-the-spot audience feedback not present in the book.