I’ve been an unabashed supporter of Tom Evslin’s blook (online book) hackoff.com – An Historic Murdery Mystery Set in the Internet Bubble and Rubble. I’ve been reading it over the past few months as each episode (somewhere between 1/3rd and 1/8th of a chapter is published.) Each morning, one of the first things I read in FeedDemon is the latest episode, often with a smile on my face.
As a result, I’ve gotten to know Tom’s publisher Kelly Evans at dotHill Press. She recently invited me to participate in an online book tour that she is doing by interviewing one of the writers on the tour. I read through the list and decided to interview Mark Leslie – who is a blogger in addition to being a writer – about the blook he is currently working on called “I, Death” – A Serial Thriller In Blog Format. The questions are mine, the answers are Mark’s.
1. What inspired you to write “I, Death”
That’s a tricky question to answer, because the inspiration was part of a domino effect. Almost a year ago I looking at some writing market guidelines and this one set of requirements a publisher was looking for seemed to closely match a story I’d written when I was back in University. That tale was the sequel to the original version of “I, Death” which was a 2000 word short that I’d penned back in high school.
When I went to rewrite the sequel (because it did need a lot of work before it would be ready to be submitted to a publisher), I needed to look back to the original prequel for a detail — I think it was something as simple as a character name. The original story was the 2000 word journal entry of a frustrated teenager. I think I was originally inspired for the format by Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” which was done as a series of journal entries. The title was because I liked the title for Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” so much that I wanted to pay homage to it.
However, once I started looking at the old story, I couldn’t help but realize how much more it could have been than a quick and hard tale about teen angst and death. I considered re-writing “I, Death” and fleshing out some more of the character who had lived in my mind and heart for almost two decades.
2. Why are you writing it as a Blook?
When I started approaching the re-write of the original “I, Death” storyline, I considered modernizing it. I mean, the original was written in the mid 80’s and was the writing of a teenager in a physical journal. I imagined that if this teenager were wanting to tell his tale or write his journal entry today, it would be on some sort of an online journal.
I had started a blog back in March of 2005 and was using that as a daily warm-up exercise to get the “blood flowing” so to speak before tackling my real writing. I thus started to conceptualize the re-written tale into a format that would look like a series of blog entries.
I wasn’t very long into the re-writing of the format when the idea struck me — what if I wrote, and posted it “live” as if the writer was a real person blogging about his troubles. It would be not much different than thousands of real blogs out there, except the writer would be a fictitious character. It would be like an internet version of the old “War of the Worlds” radio play by Orson Welles.
I did a bit of research to see if there was anything else out there like it. While I’d found several serialized books being rolled out on blogs, I hadn’t yet seen anything done in this particular manner. I’m not saying that this is the only story being done like this, but in my travels I hadn’t been able to find anything like it, so thought I’d give it a shot.
3. Have you written other books? Blooks?
Two of the books that I have written will never see the light of day from the bottom of my writing drawer, and I’m fine with that. I have fond memories of working on them, but I recognize them for what they were — sophomore attempts, good for learning the trials and struggles of writing a book, but not efforts that are worthy of being shared.
In October of 2004, my book One Hand Screaming was published. It was a compilation of some of the best horror and darker pieces that I have written and had published in small press magazines for the past 15 years or so. I went with a publisher that used a “print on demand” technology, so while I recognized that the distribution into actual book stores would be limited, I was satisfied with having some of my work that had gone out of print readily available via online book retailers for those who really wanted to read my short fiction.
I’m currently shopping around my contemporary fiction novel Morning Son. I’m about half-way through writing a science fiction thriller, a novel about a werewolf, a children’s story book and a book of short plays for teaching drama to young students. I’m also the series editor for the North of Infinity science fiction anthology series by Mosaic Press (NOI 2 is due out in the new couple of months, and I’m still in the selection process for NOI 3)
I enjoy diversity in my writing projects if you can’t tell by that list.
4. How long do you think “I, Death” is going to be (e.g. is it planned out in advance, or ad hoc)?
I really like the fact that you asked this question, because I don’t truly know the answer.
That’s because “I, Death” is a combination of pre-written and improv or ad hoc writing. That’s the beauty, I think to using my character, Peter O’Mallick, as if he were a real person writing a real blog. People who read blogs often comment on them, and sometimes, comments can have an effect on what a person writes about.
Remember, the story is being told “live” so when the blog entry is posted at say 11:19 PM, I’m out there, writing the post as Peter and publishing the entry pretty much at that time.
Thus, while I already do know for sure how the story is going to end and while I have already written many of the specific plot details and storyline twists, I’m still finding myself making last second decisions to insert new elements or plot details or even twists at the point of each post.
For example, even though I do have a file in which I have some “planned” posts for specific dates and times, I’ve already diverted some items since I’ve started, modified some others, and still re-vamped entire sequences.
Readers, as well, have had an effect on Peter’s mood during certain posts and some of the subject matters that he has approached.
That, to me, makes the project more dynamic and more exciting. Back in my theatre days, I always enjoyed improv. This is like the best of both worlds. I can be self-contained in my little secluded writing world, but I can also be on stage playing the role of Peter; and the readers are helping make him three-dimensional. I’m also discovering more about Peter’s character than I’d ever originally imagined. This process itself has been excellent for that.
I guess that while I’d originally planned for this story to last maybe 3 or 4 months, I think that the readers and their interactions, and some ideas that have occurred to me along the way, have me thinking that the story might end up being a 6 month project in total.
5. What do you consider “success” for this experience?
I think I would measure success based upon three elements. One, people are reading the tale; two, those readers are enjoying the experience and three, they hopefully remember my name and keep an eye out for my writing in the future.
Therefore, even though I only launched this on January 18, 2006, to me, the experience has already been extremely successful.
The feedback I’ve received from readers has been overwhelming, and unlike any feedback I’d ever experienced as a writer before. For one, there have been many times where a reader has left a comment on the “I, Death” blog telling me the writer how much they enjoyed that particular scene or installment, or how much the character seems so real and alive. But I am moderating comments for this blog and only letting through the ones that maintain the fiction that Peter is a real person. For the others, I’m trying to let the commenter know why I didn’t publish their comments.
For that, I’ve created a “Deathreaders” forum and map at http://www.frappr.com/deathreaders. A small number of the regular readers have joined and participated there (I always think it’s an interesting concept when you can look at a map and how a group of people from various places have been linked together), but I’ve also received feedback directly by email as well as comments about my writing and this project which I’ve seen on other sites and blogs.
So, to me, it has already been successful. Anything else that happens, that’s just gravy.
In the meantime, I’m having a blast with this whole process.