By Christy Dena –
In 1917 poet Guillaume Apollinaire gave a lecture, L’Esprit Nouveau et les Poetès, on what he described as the ‘visible and unfolded book of the future’. He wrote that creators in the future will, ‘like conductors of an orchestra of unbelievable scope,’ have at ‘their disposal the entire world, its noises and its appearances, the thought and language of man, song, dance, all the arts and all the artifices’. Almost a century later writers are indeed conducting many artforms, but instead of creating multimedia works on a computer, they are writing books with websites, films and games to extend them. Unlike the previously dominant cross-platform logic of adaption, these unfolded books are written to extend a storyworld beyond the page.
The first type of extension I’ll explore is that of providing a CD-Rom or DVD with a book. This practice is de riguer in non-fiction and educational titles but has had creative implementations as well. In 1996, for instance, Laura Esquivel the author of Like Water for Chocolate published a new book: The Law of Love . At particular moments in the novel, the protagonist, an astroanalyst, guides her patients into their past lives through the use of music. As the characters drift off, listening to a long remembered tune in their head. The book turns from text to art, with graphic novel interludes that enable the reader to see what the characters are reminiscing about. The reader can also share the phantasmagoric sounds, as Esquivel provides a CD with the arias of their memories. In this example we see how the CD, graphic novel imagery and text are integrated to a whole experience.
Most book CDs, however, are usually provided posterior to the publication. This means that they are not integrated to the story of the novel. Instead, the CDs extract some element that continues themes but not the narrative. Two examples of music CDs with books are Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music and Tim Winton’s Dirt Music. Seth’s An Equal Music CD features the music played or referred to by the musicians in the novel. In Seth’s own words:
Why append a CD — or, rather, two CDs — to a novel about music? Is it not rather like attached a whale to a copy of Moby Dick? Is the purpose to provide necessary illustration for the action in the novel? Or background music for the act of reading? Or a substitute for the text itself, which can only attempt to describe what cannot truly be described? For me the aim is none of the above, but rather, to give pleasure. (CD sleeve 1999)
For the uninitiated, the CD allows you to listen to the chamber music played by the characters. It also provides a rarely if ever heard recording of Beethoven’s little-known String Quintet in C minor, op. 104. Likewise, Winton’s Dirt Music features music referred to in the novel, but he also collaborated with Lucky Oceans to create “the kinds of music Luther and his family might have played” (CD sleeve 2001). The music, which is conventionally regarded as country, is described by the character Luther Fox as “anythin you can play on a verandah. You know, without electricity. Dirt Music.”.
American Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves (2000) had a simultaneously released album by Mark’s sister Poe: Haunted. The album featured special renditions with Mark reading from his book and Poe is also referenced in the novel. The novel is also extended in an epistolary novella called The Whalestoe Letters. Rather than be a sequel, the work is a catalogue of the letters written between characters in House of Leaves. It provides, therefore, a seemingly non-fiction record of correspondence between fictional characters.
Not all discs associated with books are music though. In 2005 Australian author Celia Dart-Thornton desired to immerse her readers of her book The Well of Tears in a compelling manner. She explains:
I wished that I could enable my readers to walk through the detailed landscapes of my fictional world, ‘Tir’, as if those landscapes were real. I wanted readers to be able to take their time exploring, enjoying the scenery, listening to the sounds of wind and water and birdsong, seeing the imaginary places and characters I write about, in an atmosphere that was not scary or violent, but exciting and magical. (book jacket 2005)
To achieve this vision, Dart-Thornton teamed up with Myst videogame creators Cyan Worlds to create a virtual world to accompany the book. A three-dimensional navigatable forest was created so that the reader could walk through the village represented in the novel and even catch glimpses of characters in the reflection on the lake. It was not a game as such, as there were no non-playing characters or missions to undertake. Instead, Dart-Thornton created a 3D representation of her fictional environment.
So too, Australian Max Barry created an online political game, Nation States , to augment his book Jennifer Government . The idea of a book having a digital game or some other type of game has been explored in many ways over the years. Two examples that reflect the changes to way games and books blended are Masquerade and Cathy’s Book.
The first, Masquerade, was published by painter Kit Williams in 1979. As Williams explains in the introduction to the 1983 edition, he ‘wanted to retain the format of a book but then do something different. If I was going to spend two or three years doing sixteen paintings, I didn’t want them to just be flickered through and put down’. Williams created complex visual imagery and prose that directed the reader, once decoded, to the exact location of a golden hare with a ruby eye he hand-crafted and buried in Ampthill, UK. Almost immediately after the publication the world seized on the treasure hunt. It wasn’t solved, however, until early 1982. Other treasure hunt books include Dillon Waugh’s homage Menagerie and David Blaine’s (and Chris Johnson) Mysterious Stranger: A Book of Magic, a listing of current and closed treasure hunts is at The Armchair Treasure Hunt Club.
Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman’s Cathy’s Book employs play and hunts in a different way: as a search for plot and immersion into a storyworld. The book is presented as if it Cathy’s personal book. In the margins are her scribbles, stuck to the inside cover are photos, napkins with phone numbers scrawled on them, and URLs of websites. Each one of the phone numbers can be called and the websites exist.
Elan Lee of 42 Entertainment explains the book:
Cathy’s Book is another wild experiment. It’s on the New York Times bestseller list right now, which is very exciting for us. That sort of validates a lot of the assumptions that we made about the product. It’s a very, very early step. You buy the book, and it serves the absolute goal of being a book. It’s entertaining to sit down and read the thing. When someone says, I called Joe to see what the deal was with blah, well, there’s his phone number, you can call Joe yourself and see what the deal is with blah. It’s kind of like fiction enhancements–just a little bit more real. When we talk about a photograph that Cathy grabbed and tore up, as you flip through the book, there is that photograph, torn up in pieces, and the fun part is you can put them back to together and flip it over and see a phone number on the back, which you can call, which leads to the next part. But the interactive model kind of ends there. There’s no mystery that you can solve that the book won’t on it’s own. [Gamasutra interview]
More recently, Steven Hall’s Raw Shark Texts likewise employs ‘alternate reality game’ design aesthetics in his online extension that thrusts the reader into the storyworld. On the website www.lostenvelope.com, the reader sees exactly what the protagonist experiences at the beginning of the novel. The reader can listen to the phone message and decipher a clues which will lead them to flickr, youtube, ebay and other sites. Rather than being integrated into the experience of the book, it is more a new media adaptation of some of the scenes and themes of the novel. Most of the immersive efforts were directed towards marketers and booksellers, as journalist Rachel Geise explains:
For several weeks, novelist Steven Hall and his publishers have been playing games with me. First was the request, which arrived by e-mail, to take an online inkblot test (the results indicated a mild case of paranoia — and with what came next, no wonder). Then I received a typewritten letter in the mail with the ominous greeting, “First things first, stay calm.” It was sent to me by me, or at least, according to the signature, “The First Rachel Giese” and I advised myself to consult a Dr. Randle about my memory loss.
A few days later, yet another letter confirmed my membership in something called the Unspace Exploration Committee. That was followed by a message typed on a business card that read, “I need to speak to you,” and a telephone number. When I called, I got a recorded message from Dr. Randle advising me not to read any letters I might receive from myself and warning me not — “under any circumstances” — to read a book called The Raw Shark Texts.” [cite]
This online experience and the main website for the book are both moves towards creating marketing that is content in itself. So too, Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You site is entertaining and authentic. An example of this is the increasing popularity of video on the web. It is an unusual example of a video or slide-show approach to marketing a book. Actually, over the past couple of years book trailers have exploded in the book industry. There are Simon & Schuster’s Book Videos, Harper Collins’ book trailers, Book Shorts , Teaching Books, Book Wrap Central , Readers Entertainment TV and VidLit. It is the latter, VidLit, that I consider to be the most effective. Trailers for books is a volatile area as the moving image can easily replace the text-triggered storyworld. The videos, in other words, need to tease, entertain and inform without becoming an adaptation. In this regard, it is the videos that do not create live-action renditions that consider the flow-on effect of their presence and in doing so are the most successful.
Writers can create their own creative adaptations however. Australian David Reiter’s book Hemingway in Spain and Selected Poems is a words and images exploration of travel and culture. As an accompaniment to the book, Reiter created a visual poetry DVD called Hemingway in Spain.
Richard James Allen has also created small video dance vignettes on mobile phone to extend the thematic concerns of his poetry novel Kamikaze Mind. Like Peter Greenaway’s The Tulse Luper Suitcases mentioned in the previous article LINK, Allen’s Kamikaze Mind is a collection of fragments of an astronauts mind. These fragments continue beyond the book to the mobile phone and has also recently blended into the immersive experience created for Thursday’s Fictions in Second Life. Second Life has also been utilized by writers to launch novels. Cory Doctorow launched his book Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town in Second Life (SL transcript). MacKenzie Wark was interviewed inside the game Halo on the ingame TV show about his book Game3r 7h30ry.
This shift towards writers creating their own adaptations and extensions heralds a new age of the intermedia artist, one that is not driven towards a hybrid experience but instead explores across artforms at different times. In an interview on the BBC in 1962, Half an Hour with Nabokov, writer Vladimir Nabakov commented that he doesn’t ‘think in any language’, instead he said, ‘I think in images’. Perhaps the employment of this polymorphic palette is a manifestation of a natural artistic state?
This article explores some of the ways print authors are thinking outside the book. Print is included in the ever expanding artistic palette of many transliterate artists as I ventured in the previous article about filmmakers, and will interrogate in the next article of this series: TV Makers Who Think Outside the TV. In the meantime, let me know of any great examples you’ve come across where authors are thinking outside the book.
Christy Dena is a Universe Creator and Transmodiologist. She is an industry strategist, mentor, transmedia writer and designer and PhD researcher. She has provided advice and presentations on multi-platform storytelling to the Australia Council for the Arts, Film Australia, Center for Screen Business, AFTRS, ABC, dLux Media Arts and the ACT Filmmakers Network. Christy presents regularly on Alternate Reality Game creation to a variety of organizations, practitioners and corporations such as Nokia in Finland. She co-wrote the International Game Developers Association Alternate Reality Game Whitepaper and manages an ARG Researcher & Educator listserv. She currently advises to clients including the Australian Literature Board and film production houses such as Killer Bald Men and Instinct Entertainment. She is part of the Sense Worldwide Network, a company that provides contextual research and concept development services to Blue Chip and Fortune 500 clients. Her PhD, at the University of Sydney, investigates narrative in the age of cross-media production. She recently gave a keynote at the First International Conference on Cross-Media Interaction Design in Sweden.
Christy runs two popular blogs: www.Cross-MediaEntertainment.com and co-edits www.WriterResponseTheory.org. She will be launching a podcast in July at www.UniverseCreation101.com and has her bio information at www.christydena.com.
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