Serial? Novel? Film? What is this?
In March 2009 I began posting pieces of a story to this website: one page per day, five days a week. Readers responded with comments, which I read to help me figure out where the hell this thing was going. I had no plan, just a curiosity about how it would turn out. This was the beginning of Machine Man.
I posted a new page every weekday for nine months. Once each page was posted, I couldn't edit it: for better or worse, it was locked in. I was often tempted to skip a day, but I'd written the code to publish and email out each page myself, and it would have been more work to make it handle a missing day than to just write a new page.
The serial finished in December 2009: you can still read it, but you're not reading along with me as I write.
After I finished, I began rewriting the story as a novel, which was a lot more work than it sounds, because a serial is essentially a series of cliffhangers, and a novel is not. The novel is complete and due out August 9, 2011. It's the same core story, but better, since it's not a first draft, and quite a lot longer.
The story is also in development with Mandalay Pictures, Darren Aronofsky, and Mark Heyman (Black Swan).
The FAQ below is mostly about the serial.
Me talking about the genesis of the serial (courtesy The Wheeler Centre)
A real-time what now?
Serial. It has lots of little parts. I called it “real-time” because people read it (and commented) as I wrote it. I didn't pull an old manuscript out of the drawer and chop it up: I wrote this story for the medium. Each day, I read comments from readers about the previous day's page and used their feedback to guide what I wrote next.
One page per day?
Right. Well, actually, one page per weekday (Monday to Friday). Because I needed a break, man. Give me that.
How long is each page?
They vary. Which turned out to be a really interesting way to control pacing, by the way. There are longish pages of 800 words and pages that are a single sentence. Most are around 300 words. That's what I think is an ideal length for fiction-by-internet: long enough to execute a scene, short enough to consume without interrupting your day.
Reading one page per day sounds weird.
It is. It's more like checking your favorite website each day rather than sinking into a novel. But it's a little addictive, too. A lot of people seem to enjoy that part of their day when a new Machine Man page dings into their inbox.
How long is it?
The serial is one hundred eighty-five pages. Which is 37 weeks, if you stick to the one-page-per-day regimen. Less if you cheat and read ahead online.
What's it about?
A man loses a leg in an industrial accident and decides to build a better one. Because that's the kind of guy he is. He gradually gadgetifies himself, which attracts the attention of his employer, the Better Future corporation.
Is it finished now?
Yes. I posted the last page of the serial on December 1, 2009. You can still sign up for one page per day via email or feed reader, starting from page 1, but you aren't reading the pages the same day I posted them.
Why did you do this?
Partly because some of my readers were frustrated with the delay between novels. And by "frustrated," I mean, "accusing me of sitting around doing nothing all day." An alarming aspect of being an author is that you spend a couple years on a book, then someone reads it in five hours and asks when your next one will be out. I figured a drip-feed story would keep them off my back for a while.
I was also interested in using the internet to successfully deliver fiction. I don't think the web is a great medium for novels, because novels are supposed to be immersive: you need to sit down and disappear into them. On the net, you can't give your attention to any one thing for more than eight seconds before feeling the urge to check your email. Don't say that's just me. It's how the internet trains us.
I think there are a lot of gimmicky attempts to mash fiction and the web together, regardless of how well they fit. They are promotions for a print novel, essentially, rather than genuine attempts to engage the medium and work to its strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to write something that fit.
Is it any good?
I think so. It's not nearly as polished as the novel, because it's essentially a first draft. Also, since I was publishing each page as I wrote it, I couldn't go back and change something I regretted later. Sometimes this felt like being strapped to the front of a train.
A good analogy is that it's like listening to a band play live instead of a studio recording. Especially if the band was making up the song as they went along. It's fairly raw and chaotic. Parts of it go clunk. But I'm proud of it as a real-time serial. And plenty of people seemed to enjoy it. Here are some quotes from readers the day I posted the final page:
How do I get it?
How much is it?
Up to page 43, it's free. That's nine and a half weeks of Machine Man goodness for nothing. Your own feed, which gets you access to the entire 185-page story, plus allows you to pause, rewind, re-read, and feed my family, is US$1.95.
What about the print book?
The novel Machine Man will be published August 9, 2011. It's very similar in concept and core elements, but is heavily rewritten, because the serial was intended to grab your attention for about two minutes each day, then let you get back to what you were doing. That turned out to be really annoying if you tried to read large chunks of the thing at once: it never lets you sink in. So I essentially took the main ideas from the serial and re-implemented them.
The novel is also about 50% longer, as I was able to expand some aspects that I had to skip over in the serial.