Monthly Archives: March 2010

  •    Margaret Atwood on Twitter:
    Oops! I shouldn’t have said that. Which is typical of “social media”: you’re always saying things you shouldn’t have said. But it’s like the days of Hammurabi, and those of the patriarch Isaac in the book of Genesis, come to think of it: once decrees and blessings have made it out of the mouth—or, now, in the 21st century, out of the ends of the fingers and past the Send button—you can’t take them back.
    So incredibly funny. #
  •    David Mamet’s Master Class Memo to the Writers of The Unit. It’s written in caps, and made all the more entertaining for it. #
  •    Lapham’s Quarterly’s got a summary of some odd writing productivity methods. My favourite:
    Victor Hugo wrote sometimes while naked, having given his clothes to his valet, telling him not to return them until the writing was completed.
    See also: Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe. #
  •    Jason Kottke on the new rules for reviewing media:
    Compare this with traditional reviewers who focus almost exclusively on the content/plot, an approach that ignores much about how people make buying decisions about media today. Packaging is important. We judge books by their covers and even by how much they weigh (heavy books make poor subway/bus reading). Format matters. There’s an old adage in photography: the best camera is the one you have with you. Now that our media is available in so many formats, we can say that the best book is the one on your Kindle or the best movie is the one on your iPhone.
    Kottke is right, of course. In time, online reviewers would begin to take into account which version – Kindle, iPad, or Nook (or whatnot) it is that provides a better reading experience. And perhaps that answer would be different for different kinds of books. #
  •    Kurt Vonnegut at the Blackboard:
    I want to share with you something I’ve learned.
    It gets better. If you like stories and wonky little graphs, you’re going to be in for a treat. (via) #
  •    Originally prepared as an internal video for Dorling Kindersley, the Future of Publishing is a tongue-in-cheek look at how readers think. Watch it till the end. #
  •    The Bygone Bureau takes a fascinating look at a small, vibrant community of poets in the comments section of the New York Times.
    Since about January of 2009, these poet-commenters have laced many a blog post or op-ed with their peculiar form of guerilla poetry. Although they can be found commenting on everything from nuclear arms control and the pricing of short stories, they seem to save their real passion for Ben Schott’s vocabulary blog, to the point that verse comments can often outnumber prose comments.
    I love the poem “An Ode to the Overdraft Fee“. (via Kottke) #
  •    Amazon’s released a Kindle app for Mac. Early reports say that the app’s ridiculously unpolished. #

Reinventing the Novel

This guest post is written by Pamela Redmond Satran, New York Times bestselling author, ninja web developer, and one-time magazine editor. Here she talks about her jump to writing digital fiction, and how she’s found it so far.

Ho SpringTwo things inspired me to write my new novel, Ho Springs, online, day by day, instead of writing it for a conventional publisher the way I did my first five novels.  Well, two things that are easy to explain.

The first was my husband, after watching the DVD of American Gangster, telling me he found the movie good enough but ultimately unsatisfying.   “It was a movie,” he explained, “so you knew from the beginning that everything really interesting was going to happen to Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, and that it was going to build to this big climax at the end.”

That was the problem with conventional novels too, I thought.  They were predictable, limited and finite in form and scope.  Wouldn’t it be more interesting to write – and read – a novel that unfolded in a way that was both more leisurely and more compelling, the way TV shows like Mad Men and The Wire did?

The second influence was creating my blog How Not To Act Old after no one wanted to buy it as a magazine article, turning it into a book and making that book a New York Times bestseller.  That experience taught me that not only was it more fun and exciting to write without an editor between me and my readers, but my own creative instincts were often better than those of the traditional publishing world.

My experience writing five “real” novels and developing two big websites – I’m also a partner in the site nameberry.com, based on the ten baby name books I coauthored with Linda Rosenkrantz – put me in a unique position to create a piece of digital fiction that would combine the best of both worlds.  Rather than writing episodic pieces, I wanted to create a novel that included such conventional elements as a character-driven story, causally-related scenes, and an extended plot that would unspool in unexpected ways, but in a form that could exist only online.

My blueprint was a television series I’d created (but hadn’t sold) a few years ago, set in a fictionalized version of Hot Springs, Arkansas.   A place-based story was perfect for an online novel, I thought, offering a wide range of characters and settings and the potential for stories to expand in an unlimited number of directions.

The big problem was the name, Hot Springs.  The url hotsprings.com was obviously taken.  And then, driving one day, I had a eureka moment: hosprings.com, or Ho Springs.  I was so excited I did a u-turn and drove right back home to track down and reserve the name.

From that moment on, I knew the idea was right.  I wanted to create the site in wordpress, so it would be free and I’d have total creative control, but I couldn’t find a theme that included all the elements – videos, graphic windows that opened to places in the town and story, room for a big block of text.

I needed a designer – or, as it turned out, three designers.  I had a vision for a logo that would look like all the letters were in realistic flames, with the T up in smoke, which called for a photoshop expert.  My budget was zero, or as close to that as I could get.  I was lucky to find Katie Mancine who built me an amazing logo.

The only problem was, Katie said, she couldn’t design a good-looking site to go with that logo.  Rather, she sold me on the concept “Vintage Tourist Guide,” which was great, but in the end that didn’t work out either.  Katie finally ended up with the design you see now on the site, and my friend Dennis Tobenski, who’s really a composer, made the whole thing dance.  Combined cost: under $1500, and several hundred gray hairs.

Weeks and then months were passing, during which I found a musician, Matt Michael, to write and record two original songs for the site, and also drafted several writer friends to create independent blogs from the characters’ viewpoints.  But the only writing I was doing during this time was putting together the static content describing the characters and the settings.

A novelist creating a work for the web is not, then, just a writer, but a designer, a logician, a manager, a tech guy, a producer.

And then, once you do start writing – or at least, once I did – the process is different too.  I suppose you could write one long story and parcel it out day by day, but the whole point for me was to create it as I went along, publish it immediately, to swing by the crook of my knees with no net below.

That’s the only way to feel the wind on your face, which is something you rarely feel when you’re writing a conventional novel, one that won’t be published for two years or maybe five, that no other person may even see for all that time, or maybe ever.  Writing all my other novels, I’m a big planner, outlining the big story and even each individual scene, revising and reimagining, working on the same piece until I lose sight of where I started and when it will ever end.

With Ho Springs, I get up in the morning, having a vague sense of what I’m going to write about, from which character’s viewpoint, but letting myself be swayed by whatever I encounter between brushing my teeth and opening my computer.  A David Sedaris story in an old New Yorker got one of my characters beaten one morning; an email from a writer friend inspired me to make a video of myself talking about what had influenced me that day.

It wasn’t until after I launched the site that I looked at what anyone else was doing in this arena.  The only site I’ve found that’s similar is All’s Fair in Love and War, Texas, by the brilliant Amber Simmons, which makes me believe God saved me from that Vintage Tourist Guide idea.  Penguin’s We Tell Stories is brilliant, but much more expensively and expertly produced than I could hope for, and more limited in writerly ambition.  Visually-based web fictions that blow me away include Unknown Territories and The Flat on Dreaming Methods.  But they’re movies, really, not novels.

Where is this project going?  My ideal vision is that someone like HBO or a publisher with a production arm will buy it and produce it as a multimedia property, with a television and a web and a book element working together.  I believe that this is how fiction will be written and published in the future, that this will become the new standard long after anyone remembers that Ho Springs ever existed.

Or I may take it down tomorrow and build something else.  The excitement is in creating something.  Holding it in your hands, or staring at it on a screen, holds so much less satisfaction.

Pamela’s personal site may be found here; with Ho Springs just around the corner.

  •    A List Apart, the industry bible for web-designers, has a piece called Web Standards for E-books. Interesting to note that the “dominant ebook format today is XHTML” (thx, Derek). #
  •    Books in the Age of the iPad. Craig Mod writes:
    We’re losing the dredge of the publishing world: disposable books. The book printed without consideration of form or sustainability or longevity. The book produced to be consumed once and then tossed. The book you bin when you’re moving and you need to clean out the closet. These are the first books to go. And I say it again, good riddance.
    Mod says something rather interesting when he talks about the potential for digital: that fiction would become edgier, riskier, a direct result from a lower barrier-to-entry to publish. And a direct result of this: a rise in the importance of editors. Whole article’s worth a read. (via df) #
  •    Would You Fck Rebecca? – a short story by Andrew O. Dugas. I live for fiction like this. I’m not sure how Fictionaut will survive, given that the site won’t be closed-door forever, but I’m enjoying it here, now, while the writing’s still fresh and beautiful. #