Soft Skull Press Agrees To Publish Novel Originally Published on Twitter
Matt Stewart originally published his novel "The French Revolution" on Twitter as a series of Bastille Day tweets. Now Soft Skull Press is going to buy his book and publish it, turning his gangly puppet into a real boy.

(from NYTimes)

I like that when people write about literature now they write about cool stunts. Bicycling didn't become a legitimate sport until the invention of the stilt unicycle and its journey across a tightrope, stage drama would never have worked without gigantic diety masks, and Twitter has finally brought Don Quixote and Sancho Panza home, shivering at the end of their 400-plus year journey through America's hearts and minds.

Congratulations to Matt Stewart for getting a deal to be printed in a huge tome of dead wood that will endure the ages and will possibly be found in his crypt by an archaeologist one day two thousand years from now, at which point the dust and cobwebs will be blown off of the covers of his book and clues about our society will be extracted from it. But as big an advocate of serial narratives as I am — there's nothing so nice as a great serial narrative to start your day off right and to keep you chained to a set of characters who may or may not sleep together or kill one another in a duel for several months or years — I take serious issue with the idea that the publication of The French Revolution in a series of three or four thousand tweets is in any meaningful way Dickensian.

The whole point of serial narrative is that your sleep is disturbed by worry of what will happen next to your favorite characters. Is Little Nell dead? Is Esther Summerson blinded, and will this make her less cloying? What is the mystery of Edwin Drood? (whoops.) The psychological disorder correlated with a Dickensian serial narrative is insomnia, obsession. The psychological disorder associated with a novel that's published in 140-character bursts of text every fifteen minutes of your life — beeping on your cell phone as you cross the street, get into taxis, have an intimate dinner — "What's that?" your paramour asks; "Kill me," you think, sweating and eye sockets dark as midnight rain barrels — is schizophrenia. Matt Stewart is following you around, screaming the drama in his head electronically into your ears via the SMS carrier waves that even your best tinfoil hat can not keep out.

There's this larger problem with the Internet: any delay in gratification becomes insurmountable. In the past, a Dickens book could come out at the rate of one installment a month. Once a month, on feast day, the rib roast of the Old Curiosity Shop would be served out and everyone would devour it. Then you had twenty-nine days of bones to gnaw until you found out what happened next. The human mind is designed to love things like this. Imagine that you are a prisoner staring at your cell ceiling for twenty-nine days. What exciting imaginary journeys will you go on??

Try starting a serialized novel online right now, today. Tell your readers that every month, they will get a new installment of your story. See what happens.

It's left to the fantasy, wizard and vampire novelists to teach us what it is to wait patiently for a story to be told, until it becomes, through the waiting, worth waiting for.


It's also irritating, based on GalleyCat's initial post on Stewart's project, that the book started off in two formats, "unreadable/trendy" and "Scribd." Now that there's a book deal in the offing, the convenient-to-read, free Scribd version has vanished. (Try it!) Why? Because if you give away content, no one will buy that content from you in a more pleasant-to-consume format. This thinking is at best not entirely true, at worst totally bogus. It's possible, if you're willing to operate at low overhead and you know you can sell one or two thousand copies of a book, to give away your content for free online and to let diehard fans and supporters help you break even on the costs. But Matt Stewart has a book deal now, so he suddenly has a lot of additional overhead to cover. It's a real shame that information in fact does not want to be free, although I guess the Twitter version is going to be floating around out there forever for us to curl up with in our favorite easy chair, blinking at an overbright cell screen as we browse in reverse order, 140 painful characters and hash tags at a time.

What's warranted is really a review of The French Revolution, but I ain't reading that shit on Twitter.

Posted by future on Wed, 16 Sep 2009 17:36:29 -0400 -- permanent link

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