Check out my interview about co-writing a fantasy novel on Daniel Ausema’s blog. Comment on it before the end of the weekend and enter the draw for a chance to win a free copy of my epic fantasy novel The Best Weapon AND a free copy of the first part of the subsequent series Sorrow Part 1: The Ring of Steel.
Today it is my pleasure to welcome fellow author Daniel Ausema, creator of the steampunk series, Spire City, to give his thoughts on serial fiction.
* * * *
First of all, let me thank Martin for giving me the space here, and be sure to hop on over to my blog Twigs & Brambles this weekend for my interview with him. Learn about his approach to writing his serial and other works, and even enter for a chance to win a copy of one of his books.
I wanted to take a moment to discuss serials in general. For several years I’ve been hearing people say that the internet and the rise of e-publishing are ideal for reviving the serialized story. A serialized novel…it conjures up images of Charles Dickens sitting in his Victorian London, sending a poor street orphan to carry his latest chapter to the magazine editors. Meanwhile, the readers in stove-pipe hats and bustled dresses eagerly wait for the new issue so they can take out their monocles and find out what happens next to the poor street urchins and factory laborers.
Or maybe that picture is just my own weird quirk. Regardless, the idea is that we’ll see a renaissance of serialized stories. Granted, e-publishing has been suggested as a source of renewal in all manner of story styles and formats, from novellas to golden age SF to whatever nostalgic format and subject a given blog writer feels is missing from today’s publishing. So you take such claims with a grain of salt, naturally.
Still, the claim is one that interested me, as I’d already begun writing Spire City: a story that was always meant to be serialized, without any clear plan for how it would be published. Since then, I’ve seen some writers have wonderful success with serialization, while other serials have appeared to fall flat. So I don’t think there’s anything magic to the format, but it certainly offers some things that traditional novels might not.
The question is, what? And especially, what does serialization offer to readers?
The first answer is that it’s (for now) a different experience. For all the claims that serialization will grow, it’s still not a huge share of published fiction. So when you begin reading a serial, you’re not just buying a story, you’re not just buying a bunch of text to devour and forget. You’re buying into an experience that’s different from a typical novel. And waiting becomes a key part of that experience. You read about the characters, and then they linger in your mind for that gap before the next episode comes out.
Comic book writers and readers have known this effect for years, and I think webcomics especially are a natural and complementary form of serial storytelling today. Television producers take full advantage of it, at least with long-arc dramas, which have grown increasingly popular. And viewers are fully accustomed to allowing the experience of the show to sink into their brains for a week or a month or whatever it is as they wonder how the characters will respond to the latest events.
I am neither a frequent TV watcher these days nor a comic book collector, but in writing Spire City I did pay close attention to a variety of TV shows and webcomics, not just to what stories they told but how they told them, and how the episodes led from one to the next.
The other key thing that serialization offers is the chance to tell a portion of the story in a very different way. Switching point of view characters, switching writing styles and narrative voices. As a writer, this was one of my favorite aspects of creating the Spire City series. For readers, too, the variation and even playfulness of some of it allow the story to be enjoyed at different levels.
So, in one of the upcoming episodes, I switch from a standard narration of the actions of our serum-infected protagonists to a noir-style, first-person account from one of the antagonists. In another episode, I created an approximation of The Matrix-style bullet-time, in prose form. These are fun (for writer and reader both), and they also allow the story to get to you in different ways, to sink their fingers in and create a wider picture. (One thing I’ve not attempted is a prose equivalent of the TV-show trope of an all-musical episode. Hmm, maybe I should…no.)
Granted, it’s certainly possible with some stories to write a traditional novel that does the same. But many stories, I think, resist that kind of approach, and if a novel suddenly shifts into noir or poetry or something else for a random chapter, many readers would find that simply strange rather than entertaining. For a random episode it feels much more natural.
Is serialization the way of the future? I have no idea. But it is an experience that’s worth trying out, both for writers and readers. Maybe it will make a large comeback in the years ahead. Maybe monocles and carriages will, too. Just as long as no one tries to bring back consumptive chimney sweeps and child labor.
Spire City, Season One: Infected is available from Musa Publishing. The latest issue is Episode 3, “The Spires,” released today. The full season will be thirteen episodes long. Thanks for reading and thanks again to Martin for hosting me.
Spire City is home to mighty machines of steam power and clockwork, and giant beetles pull picturesque carriages over cobbled streets, but there is a darker secret behind these wonders. A deadly infection, created by a mad scientist, is spreading through the city, targeting the poor and powerless, turning them slowly into animals. A group of those infected by the serum join together to survive, to trick the wealthy out of their money, and to fight back.
I had this dream last night. I kept waking up sweating and every time I went back to sleep I was back in the same dream. It seemed to carry on all night.
It started with my and my two brothers going to see my cousin. In the dream, he was some sort of gangster who lived in a massive house on the coast. He had a huge swimming pool with an elephant swimming round and round. The elephant swam like a killer whale at a Sea World. It kept leaping up in the air and doing somersaults and splashing back into the pool. Every time it leapt in the air it would hang there for a moment and look over at us with suspicious eyes before diving back down again. A tiger lounged by the pool watching idly while the four of us had a drink in the son.
Beyond the pool was a forest which held my cousin’s menagerie. Countless strange and exotic animals wandered around in there. His huge, luxurious house was behind us.
After a while my cousin said he had to go out. He went off and left me and my two brothers there. A fence separated us from the elephant and tiger. As soon as he was gone the elephant got out of the pool and came up to the fence and was staring at us. The tiger joined him and snarled at us. They were trying to get at us.
Then suddenly a load of armed men burst in out of nowhere and started shouting and saying they’ll feed us to the tiger and the elephant was threatening to kick my head in! The men were my cousin’s gangster rivals and the elephant and tiger were obviously turncoats. Then they started killing all the animals in his menagerie. That really pissed me off so me and my brothers made a break for it and ran into the house’s garage.
When we got inside the garage it turned out to be a massive boxing gym. There were three boxers in there, all sparring at the same time, which is an odd thing to see, even in a dream. We told them what was happening and the six of us set fire to the building. It went up in flames pretty quickly and there was black smoke everywhere. Me, my brothers and the three boxers ran out of the burning house to kick off with the armed men and the tiger and that fucking elephant. There was chaos.
All the animals broke out the menagerie and fled. Monkeys, giraffes, tapirs, you name it, all over the place. Eventually our enemies fled and we ended up running up the road to the town hall. We ran in and shut the door. There were vets in there and I was saying we ought to try and catch my cousin’s animals and treat them for smoke inhalation or whatever. Then I looked out of a high window and saw a hippo running up the road carrying her baby in her mouth. That’s when I though, “shit, what are we doing? What about the hippos?”
I started shouting, “get the hippo in! Get the hippo in!” Then as it came closer it suddenly looked like a six foot kangaroo rat and I said, “hang on, that’s not a hippo.”
Then my alarm went off. Bastard, I was enjoying that.
Please join me wishing The 900 Club a happy first birthday. We have just posted our twelfth monthly batch of five very different short stories, we would be honoured if you would pay The 900 Club a visit and have a read. Soon we will be publishing the 2013 anthology to mark a year writing together, so keep your eyes peeled for a unique collection of tales in all styles and genres.
In other news, Sorrow Part 13: The Sack of Hasan, latest in the epic fantasy series was released today in ebook format by Musa Publishing. The story is nearing the end now, as part sixteen is the final part, and the plot thickens.
Below is my latest offering for The 900 Club, I hope you like it.
* * * *
by Martin Bolton
The weatherman used the phrase “mainly windy”. That made me laugh, not just because it sounds like such a ludicrous phrase when considered out of context, but also because the weatherman was my husband, and that was exactly the sort of thing he came out with all the time. He made me laugh every day then.
I remember that laughter now like a distant dream, another life, a memory shrouded by the mists of time and the madness that comes with it – and time is madness when it is all you have. It seeps into you, it eats away all the tiny barriers in your mind until you are left with stark reality, and with that comes raw madness. I have learned that since I was trapped here, in the darkness, with nothing but the silence, the cold, and this… thing.
I was Professor of Arthropodology, specialising in arachnids, for The Department of Zoology, Oxford University. We were on an expedition to Laos to visit the caves in the Mekong Subregion and follow up on local reports of a species of spider thought to outgrow the biggest known – the giant huntsman.
Had I known what really existed, deep in the heart of these ancient caves, I would have stayed in England, safe in my laboratory, where my scientific mind could cling to its superficial pretensions that man’s innate fear of the dark is purely visceral.
Our intention was to explore beyond the mapped network of passages with the purpose of plotting more of the cave and discovering new species. We were about a mile into virgin tunnels when I came upon a vast crystal chamber about the size of a football pitch. As I shone my halogen lamp across the space, the light was refracted by huge, perfectly transparent crystals like cut diamonds. The effect was breath taking: the vivid display of colours, the dazzling kaleidoscope of alien shapes. The rest of my team were behind me, but I was transfixed, enthralled, as though in a dream, isolated from the real world. Then the floor of the cave opened like a trapdoor. The colours vanished, replaced by blackness.
I ran out of breath screaming long before I hit something. I must have struck a ledge or a protruding rock, because I felt my legs shatter, making a soggy crunching sound. The impact sent me spinning helplessly into empty, black space.
What I landed on was not rock, or I would certainly be dead. How I long for such a blissful end now. We go through life fearing death, all our instincts geared to towards avoiding it. I wonder if our primeval ancestors knew what I know now. Surely if they did, they would fear the end no more, because they would know as I do, there are things on Earth so much worse than dying.
After landing on this strange, springy surface, I lay for sometime. The pain in my legs was intense, and I passed in and out of consciousness. Either that or the dreams I had of daylight, laughter and fresh air were just hallucinations caused by agony and shock. I lifted my head to look down at my body. I could move my arms but my legs were a twisted wreckage. I moved my head from side to side, initially relieved there seemed to be no injuries to my back or neck. That relief turned to dismay, then terror, when I saw what I lay on.
On either side, stretching away into the seemingly infinite darkness, were taut, thin strands of some tough, flexible material. I tried to move my upper body and felt the surface give slightly beneath my elbows. I shook my head vigorously and felt myself, almost imperceptibly, swaying back and forth. There was only one thing I knew of that came close to the description forming in my mind.
No sooner than the dim light was finally extinguished by the inevitable death of the batteries in my headtorch, I felt vibrations. Something moved in the darkness. The web shook more violently, and soon I felt its touch. The way the web moved, either side of me, gave me the impression that whatever it was, it was behind me. It was on the underside. Then I felt a sharp pain in my neck, a bite, and just before I succumbed to paralysis I felt the web shake as the thing scampered away.
I wish I had been devoured then, but the grisly fate I had imagined for myself was nothing compared to the sickening reality. It is now apparent when that thing bit me, it set into motion a ghastly, insidious process; a metamorphosis more hideous than anything I have seen in my study of arthropods, or ever imagined possible. Nor did my paralysis bring with it the inability to feel sensations, so I have felt the realigning of my very molecules like a permanent, tormenting itch.
To my horror, the first parts of my body to develop their new form were my eyes. I can see again now, even in the total darkness, only this time I can see in all directions at once. I can see myself, or at least the thing that used to be me. My transformation is at an advanced stage: I have a complete cephalothorax, spiny carapace and abdomen, and the beginnings of eight huge legs.