Monday, March 5, 2012                                                        Dreadful Joy

Ebooks as Works-in-Progress

Cover Art: Jeff Bigman

With the advent of ebooks, the real revolution in publishing for authors is the transformation of their published works to works-in-progress.

Though some believe that text should be manipulated only by the author and professional editors (otherwise, too many cooks in the kitchen), I find myself enjoying the public intimacy of sharing storytelling with my readers.

In the afterword of my ebooks, I requested comments, and several readers have responded and emailed critiques of my fiction.

Ogrelord thought the “Prelude” to The Dragon and the Unicorn too dense. Literally. Ogrelord suggested I “break the story into smaller paragraphs … it’s easier to read on a Nook or Kindle.”  

That's an effective and easy change to implement!

Samgirl posed a riskier challenge for my short story “Telefunken Remix” in Demons Hide Their Faces: “I’m confused by the terminology you make up as you go along to define the story’s unusual setting, two million years in Earth’s future. How about inserting definitions as you go?”

How about it? Here’s the original opening sequence:

Barely audible above the sounds of rain sifting through the bedchamber’s oval window, a succession of three short dulcet tones from a headboard alarm clock chimes thrice, and Noel gently rouses from the Bosom. This is what Heavinside calls sleep: the Bosom, from Old English bōsm, the place where secret thoughts are kept.

I better not even try to explain that! This is Noel’s first thought as he rolls out from his moss hammock and strides two paces into the wash bole. While relieving himself at the commode, he opens burl wood louvers and watches morning peek from under a brim of departing rain clouds. Another lovely day in Saille, a willow town of Heavinside. Saille of sylvan swards and swan linns, old suburbs in paradise, croons with bird madrigals and vibrant morning mist from nearby falls. Yet, even this tranquility can’t match his anxious thoughts. Today is the day: the chancy day he departs Heavinside for Errth.

Lilac shadows of sunrise stretch through his heart and darken his mood with the disquieting thought that his doppel won’t understand. Noel has already decided to begin by explaining why Heavinside calls the doppel’s world Errth instead of Earth. “Your world is an error,” he practices aloud. “Surely, many people in your time intuited correctly that life and the solar system itself were intelligently designed.”

I took Ogrelord’s advice and broke up the paragraphs – and added definitions as Samgirl suggested … oh yeah, and my muse inserted her two cents and insisted I clean up the initial run-on sentence :

Sounds of rain sift through the bedchamber’s oval window. A succession of three short dulcet tones chimes thrice from a headboard alarm, and Noel gently rouses from the Bosom.

The Bosom: what Heavinside calls sleep: the Bosom, from Old English bōsm, the place where secret thoughts are kept.

I better not even try to explain that! This is Noel’s first thought as he rolls out from his moss hammock and strides two paces into the wash bole.

While relieving himself at the commode, he opens burl wood louvers and watches morning peek from under a brim of departing rain clouds.

Another lovely day in Saille, a willow town of Heavinside.

Heavinside: Earth and humankind under the management of the Contexture, the hyperdimensional intelligence that designed and projected life into spacetime.

Saille of sylvan swards and swan linns, old suburbs in paradise, croons with bird madrigals and vibrant morning mist from nearby falls. Yet, even this tranquility can’t match his anxious thoughts.

Today is the day: the chancy day he departs Heavinside for Errth.

Errth: Earth prior to management by the Contexture, when chance shaped circumstances for the planet and humankind.

Lilac shadows of sunrise stretch through his heart and darken his mood with the disquieting thought that his doppel won’t understand.

Doppel: the original, genetic double on Errth of a human clone in Heavinside.

Noel has already decided to begin by explaining why Heavinside calls the doppel’s world Errth…

I’m much more willing to live on Errth now that ebooks are here: My fiction benefits from reader-directed changes, and if I err, well, another ebook edition is only a few mouseclicks away.



 

5 Comments:

Blogger Jaime said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 5, 2012 at 7:56 PM  
Blogger Jaime said...

Reading this, Al, I feel like a perplexed reader from the olden days when stories for the most part existed only on processed wood pulp and we all wore onions on our belts (it was the style at the time). Tis a brave new world, to be sure, and to this observer, more than a little unsettling. In this young fast and scientific pixel-pushing Now, when does the writer stop, if ever? How does the hapless reader keep up? Do they go back over over and over, not like the affectionate annual pilgrimage to a favorite tome, but like someone frantically checking and re-checking their Facebook page? Should the writer keep re-visiting the scene of the crime, when she could be pulling off bigger heists, more spectacular and colorful outrages?

Constructive advice during creation is certainly helpful, but should anyone have yelled to Jimi Hendrix, Andres Segovia or Bill Monroe "Stop playing so fast!" "Mister Johnson, can I call you Bob, son? Bob, this 'Hellhound on My Trail' is a tad downbeat. What the good folks want is something like 'Mairzy Doates'. Give 'em that, son!" Think of the people who booed Dylan when he went electric (not to mention his 12 minute extended dub version of 'Ballad of the Long Legged Bait' ;-)).

I've often and loudly proclaimed my love of dub, re-mixes and radical cover versions in the realm of musical art, and I am 2nd to none in my delight in bricolage and collage as an artistic form. But all of those forms occur in response and reaction to an existing "text" (song/sculpture/visual motif).

A thought provoking post to say the least and I guess it's got me raving to no clear or final end. I wouldn't think to tell you how to do what you do, Al, or which paths to take. As a reader, I'll certainly keep my end of the pact. I'll be watching - and reading.

March 5, 2012 at 8:03 PM  
Blogger A. A. Attanasio said...

Thanks, Jaime, for pondering with me the issue of the eternal rewrite! Tweaking run-on sentences and passive voice eternally sounds like a punishment in Hades, for sure! In fact, last year, when I first began revising my backlist (texts I hadn’t read in years, because I couldn’t change them) I thought that “it’s disturbing to meet the ghost of myself, the guy who wrote those books. Working with him, sharing again for a time his interests and inspiration, is a haunting encounter with an irretrievable self, a lot like the Greek myth of Orpheus, the artist who glimpses his soul before hell recalls his love to darkness.” Then my first ebooks appeared, and comments and queries from readers made the text a new way of relating. So, my cranial jury is still out about this Orphic glance of my past…

March 5, 2012 at 10:15 PM  
Blogger Jaime said...

Namaste, Al! A thought occurs that pre-Kindle, e-book and interweb, your fellow traveler in genre, Joe Haldeman, dealt with multiple iterations of his novel THE FOREVER WAR. There was a point where a chapter he'd been told to cut ('too downbeat', exactly like my snarky reference upthread to bluesman Robert Johnson) ended up in his short story collection DEALING IN FUTURES. I own that, plus his final 'approved edition' of TFW ,purchased after I lost my copy of the original paperback which I've owned since my teens when I first read it.

My copy of Poul Anderson's THE BROKEN SWORD (again from the 1970s) has an introduction wherein he talks about "the young man who used to be me" writing the first "headlong, prolix and unrelievedly savage" version of TBS and the judicious tweaks he had made to the current edition. The urge to revisit does seem to be a common impulse among artists. Thought you'd like to know that what you're doing is not without precedent.

March 6, 2012 at 9:30 AM  
Blogger A. A. Attanasio said...

I’m glad (and reassured) to be reminded of the commonality of the Orphic Glance. Thanks, Jaime! That feeling of meeting someone else when we look back at much earlier creations takes its otherness from the existential fact that we really aren’t the same person, are we? (Spooky stuff, coming from a tradition of the perdurable, even immortal, self!) The Buddha and poststructuralists agree the self is an illusion. A kaleidoscopic illusion, it seems, of many, shifting selves. Art fixes the vision. ‘Fixes’ in both senses: It fixates in time how the artist ‘sees’ things. And it repairs or emends that vision, to make it more aesthetic. Meeting “the young man who used to be me” is always an eerie encounter with the non-self – the mysterious, perhaps unsayable, reality illuminating the many selves. Hey, how did reflecting on ebooks get so profound? ;-)

March 6, 2012 at 11:01 AM  

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