Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chapter Thirty-One: The Huffington Post is going to SERIALIZE my fiction!

Very VERY exciting news -- The Huffington Post (for which I am a regular contributor) is going to run my fiction, a novel in serial format, on their national mega-blog! It's the first time they will have done that EVER!

I wrote Huff Po National Editor Nico Pitney two weeks ago to propose the idea:

"Hi Nico, hope all is well, I am back from Georgetown, teaching literature and journalism at SUNY again. A couple months ago, the Albany Times Union launched a very cool blog experiment called Writing in Motion -- a small group of fiction writers (including me) were invited to write our new books on a TU blog, chapter by chapter. My novel Sister Mysteries, (a time travel murder mystery :) has taken off.

I'm wondering if the Huff Po would consider making space on the book site for serialized fiction -- chapter by chapter, a la Charles Dickens?

With ebooks mushrooming, it seems like a natural to me.

Here are the latest two chapters of my book on my blog, which links to Writing in Motion --

Chapter 24: Whisky for a Guitar? How the Nun Goes Free:

As you can see they have lots of links and images.

Curious to know what you think!


Claudia Ricci"

Exactly THREE minutes later, Nico (who lectured in my journalism class at Georgetown last year) replied, saying that he would pass the idea on to his book people. They agreed and later, Nico wrote: "look forward to running the serial novels! really neat idea."

So the next question, of course, is which novel do I run?

My brand new novel Seeing Red (it came out a week ago!) would be the logical choice. It's all there. All the writing is finished and polished and by all accounts it's a good read and a very traditional, straightforward narrative.

Seeing Red is a love story but also, it tells the tale of a woman who takes a journey through Spain and ends up discovering herself as an artist.

What's more, the novel has an arresting and lovely cover (thank to an image by gifted collage artist Kellie Meisl) and it also has flamenco music (by brilliant guitarist Maria Zemantauski) to go with it -- the book was named after Maria's CD, "Seeing Red," music that inspired me to write it! Should anyone want to hear the kind of flamenco I listened to when I wrote each chapter, they can!

Both my husband and my writer friend Lori Cullen (who got me back to writing Sister Mysteries last November when she invited me to be part of the Albany Times Union's Writing in Motion project) vote for Seeing Red.

I emailed Lori this morning asking her writerly opinion and she wrote back:

"I vote for Seeing Red. Then, after you have finished Sister Mysteries and it's edited and structured, THEN run that one. I'd be afraid to run something that was both experimental and in progress. It could be confusing."

As always, Lori makes a lot of sense. No point in needlessly confusing readers. My husband, a rational sort of guy (and very supportive of my writing) feels the same way.

Still, I am reluctant to serialize Seeing Red and it's NOT because I think it will cut into book sales. Indeed, just the opposite is true.

My husband knows the woman who FOUNDED and she discovered that by serializing a book she had written, it actually helped in a huge way to boost sales of print copies!

No, for me, the reason not to run Seeing Red on The Huffington Post in serial format is more complicated. To me, it feels like it would be ... too easy. Too safe. Too BORING!

Part of me wants to display the writing process at the same time that I serialize the fiction.

Part of me finds it exciting and provocative to give the readers an inside look at fiction writing. I think it might be very cool, and a lot of fun, to walk right out onto a textual tightrope where I would continue writing this crazy Sister Mysteries book and let the fiction-writing process be transparent, i.e., let readers have a look at how a book is actually written.

Crazy, perhaps. But it's the teacher in me who wants to display Sister Mysteries.

I guess I think that by serializing Sister Mysteries (and its companion, the nun story Castenata)

I can help to de-MYSTIFY fiction writing, and engage readers in more lively debate/discussion about writing.

That seems especially important at this momentous time in publishing. With paper books disappearing and electronic books flourishing, it seems timely to try this kind of experiment. It seems timely to get readers involved in actively reacting to the books they read.

This is a rather post-modern notion, I realize. I shared the idea with my students yesterday, in the first day of my Short Story class. I told them that stories exist in webs, that every story begets another story, and that they as readers this semester will be writing stories in reaction to the stories that they read.

To those who would say that I need to finish Sister Mysteries before I can run it in serial form, I say, well, perhaps. But I've been running this book in serial format for 30 chapters already! It is starting to look to me like the Sister Mysteries portion of this writing project could just go on and on. Then what? And what happens to the blog posts that I've already written? Do they get erased? All of these questions suggest the following to me:

ALL OF PUBLISHING -- just like all of journalism -- IS IN AN UPROAR. BLOGS ARE EVERYWHERE.

So isn't it time we recognize that, and discuss it. And think about it? And think about the implications.

Books in paper form, like print newspapers, may disappear, and are disappearing, but stories are not going to disappear, not unless the human race disappears!

We've had stories at least as long as we've had language and symbols, and we are not going to lose stories because stories help us to make sense of the world. Stories make us human. Stories ARE key to how we make meaning out of the chaos of existence.

Somebody who shares these ideas very strongly with me is my other writer friend Peg, who got her doctorate at the same time, and in the same program, as I did. We both studied narrative theory which is really the study of storytelling.

Peg -- who has a wonderful novel out -- Spinning Will, (buy a copy, it's a truly FABULOUS book!) -- has been reading Sister Mysteries for years and YEARS (during the worst years she jokingly renamed it SISTER MISERIES :). Like me, she is both a fiction writer AND a teacher of writing (and literature) at the University level -- she is P.M. Woods, Ph.D., Assistant Director at the Writing Program at the University of Massachusetts, where that very famous writing teacher Peter Elbow used to dwell!

Peg, with whom I've had endless conversations about writing and storytelling, wrote me this morning to tell me what she thinks I should do:

"I was thinking Sister Mysteries would be the better one to serialize since it is a mystery and it isn't published. I see Lori's point and it does make sense. But what if you serialized only Castenata, Sister Renata's part of the story? That is more of a mystery. You have that story done!"

My friend Andy LaCoppola, a drummer and high school music teacher and an avid reader (he and his wife, Kellie, had finished Seeing Red within a day or two after it was out!) Andy is also reading this blog book, and like Peg, he votes for Sister Mysteries. He writes:

"The thing that really grabs me about Sister Mysteries is not only the writing/story, but the PROCESS when you write. It's absolutely fascinating to watch the "creature" unfold and how it ties in to so many other things. I can see Seeing Red as a serial, since the anticipation is something you can build as the reader waits for each new section/chapter....I guess it would be the same anticipation when I await your next chapterl! I say go for it!"

Even before Peg suggested running Castenata, the nun's story, that same thought had occurred to me too.

It DOES have an ending or at least, I know how it will end. After all, most of the book has been in place, in stacks of paper in a crate in my closet beside the vacuum cleaner, for years -- next week the nun story celebrates a birthday of sorts, it will officially be 16 years that I started writing the book!

I just reread the first chapter -- Renata's first diary entry -- and I thought to myself, hmmmm, this would be a wonderful opening for a serialized book.

Maybe you will take a look at Chapter One -- "My Crazy Cousin is Making up Stories About Me!" Sister Mysteries; the two on-line books are thoroughly linked and several chapters, like this one, converge. The easiest way to read this "blogga saga" is to start with and let me know what you think. While you're at it, maybe you will also have a look/SEE at Seeing Red. I am thinking of flipping the first two chapters, and starting with Chapter Two, called "Sex and Cinnamon."

If you are inclined, let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, I will enjoy the fact that I will soon be able to conduct a very exciting writing experiment, serializing fiction on-line.

But now, with internet technology taking over and crowding out traditional publishing, we will likely see more and more serialized fiction on-line -- recently a couple of science fiction writers attracted attention with a historical novel -- a 13th-century martial arts story -- called In describing the venture, the authors call their book "a serial novel, the kind of thing that Charles Dickens wrote. It is also an experiment in fiction and technology."

And down the line? Maybe we'll follow the lead of the Japanese -- over there cell phone novels are huge bestsellers!

I'm just thrilled that the Huff Po -- one of the most prominent of the nation's internet sites -- is willing to serve as a stage for this experiment of mine.

If you'd like to receive regular email posts, letting you know when each new chapter is released, just email and your name will be added to the "subscription" list!


Lynn said...

PROMISE to keep speaking to the likes of me when you are the toast of e-very town? This is wonderful, wonderful news!
xo, Lynn @

Claudia R said...

Hi Lynn, it is writers like you -- with beautifully written blogs and lots to say -- who will lead the way toward this new era of writing and publishing! Glad to have you aboard MyStoryLives! Claudia