Now there’s this app, Subtext, that lets you read books and share your comments about them in real-time with other people reading the same book. Little speech bubbles in the margins pop up: you tap them, you get to read what other people are saying about a particular plot twist, or character death, or whatever.
In some cases, the author has gone through and made a bunch of those comments him or herself, and these read a little like a DVD commentary track.
I mention this because I’m one of those authors: Machine Man is one of their launch titles. So, if, you know, you feel I’ve been too secretive about the creative process behind Machine Man so far, now is your chance for some insight.
At first I thought you would have to turn those comments off when reading a Subtext book, at least the first time through, because otherwise that would be really distracting. But I have found that this is impossible. You know the comments are lurking there, and it’s too much to resist turning them back on when you’re wondering, “Does anyone else think this story just completely went off the rails?”
So that’s pretty cool. Not from an author’s perspective. From an author’s perspective, it’s horrible. I want you to sit there and read what I’ve damn well written for you. But as another example of users seizing control over their own entertainment experiences, it seems significant.
Movie news! I just changed the subject. That’s what happened there. Mark Heyman, the scriptwriter of Black Swan, who’s been busy working on what I have to say is a freaking fantastic Machine Man script, I know I’m not allowed to tell anyone, Mandalay, BUT IT IS AWESOME, has sold his “Facebook thriller” script XOXO, with Darren Aronofsky producing. So it’s all going pretty nicely in Heyman-land. Syrup is deep in post-production and I still haven’t seen it, not that I’m thinking about it every ten minutes or anything. And the leads are busy: Amber Heard is doing interviews for The Rum Diary, and Shiloh Fernandez is becoming an eco-terrorist.
I’m a little nervous about this, but here is the nerdiest thing I have ever done. You realize that bar is already pretty high. I have programmed web games. I have considered domain name availability before naming my offspring. But this is the first time I have publicly released a version control system history of a book.
I just lost you. I realize that. Unless you are some kind of freako super-geek, in which case, welcome to the tiny minority of the human race that may appreciate this. The rest of you: a revision control system is usually used for writing software, and tracking the changes you make. I used one of these for the Machine Man serial, since I was uploading a page per day, and it needed to be processed for sending out to people’s email inboxes and cell phones, and I lost you again, didn’t I? Okay.
The point is I have the entire edit history of Machine Man all the way back from notes. And you can browse to any particular page and see how it evolved from something to nothing.
Here is an example, using Version 1 of Page 18:
It’s just a note to myself about what this page might be about. By clicking the “→V2”, you move ahead to Version 2 of that page:
New words are green, deleted words are red. This page is hard to read because the software is making bad guesses about how the different versions fit together. In actuality, I simply deleted my note and wrote a first version.
Then I corrected a spelling mistake:
And continued tweaking in versions 4 through 9.
The final version is here. And if you have the book, you can follow along at home to the version that wound up in the novel:
I’m not sure what use this is to anybody, other than for exposing my writerly fumblings in an even more humiliating manner than I’ve already done. But it was POSSIBLE, so I have DONE IT.
To access the Source version of a page in the Machine Man serial, click the tiny, near-invisible nut on the top-right of any serial page. Or append “&v=1” to the URL, if you’re that nerdy. Which, if you’ve read this far, you surely are.
- Some people are incredibly nice and love the book and take the trouble to say so, which makes you feel like kissing their toes
- Some reviewers say you are smart and you think, Hey, yeah, I am smart, I’m REALLY GODDAMN SMART
- Some reviewers mistake your book for something else entirely and you have to remind yourself it’s not a good look for an author to post angry comments listing their CLEAR FACTUAL AND CONCEPTUAL ERRORS
- You are invited to speak at festivals and bookstores and on radio, which causes you to gradually re-learn atrophied social skills like talking
- Your time for writing shrinks and you start to panic because you’re not getting enough one-on-one time with your work-in-progress, which loves and needs you
- Some people you haven’t heard from in years remember you exist
- Some people take the time to email you how much you suck, which often seems to be a reaction not to the book or to you exactly but rather the fact that you are receiving attention, which infuriates them for reasons that are hard to know
- Some people give oddly insulting compliments, like, “Of your four terrible books, this is at least fairly readable,” and honestly seem to expect you will be pleased to hear it
- You notice things in the book you wish you had done differently
- You kind of want to know how it’s selling but kind of don’t
- Some people don’t seem to realize you have a new book out, and how is that possible, you’re spending all this goddamn time doing interviews and blogs and book trailers, have they seen that book trailer, HOW CAN THEY NOT KNOW
Basically, a strange time. And that’s even without a US book tour, which is usually a whole added level of surrealism for me. But I replaced it with the Skype tour, so I guess it balanced out. Actually, the Skype tour was far more successful than I expected. Or, more specifically, it contained far less crazy than I feared. I’m not saying you people are crazy. Not all of you. It was just that I was pretty sure that at some point I would find myself talking to a person who wanted me to join his underground resistance movement, and read his manuscript. But that didn’t happen. So thank you to everyone for being so nice and sane. The best part of book tours is getting to chat to readers—well, that and the hotel room service—so it was like taking just that part and condensing it down.
Tomorrow I’m off to the Brisbane Writers Festival, but next week, guess what? A clean calendar! I’m really excited about that. That means I can write.
Also: win an original manuscript. I wasn’t sure which to go with as the blog title. Which do you think is more alluring? It’s the manuscript, isn’t it? Well, it’s too late for that now. Stop going on about it.
So two new promotions today. PROMOTION #1: WIN A MACHINE MAN MANUSCRIPT! This is a mid-2010 working draft of the novel that I scribbled notes over. It’s 413 pages. I don’t know how I’m supposed to mail that. The postage will ruin me. Anyway, you can win that, and magnets and books, if you enter before August 9 and live in the US or Canada. Yes, this one is a North American promotion. Don’t look at me like that. I don’t control the global publishing industry.
PROMOTION #2: SKYPE WITH MAX! Since I’m not doing a book tour, I decided to Skype myself around. That sounds kind of dirty. But the idea is you get the joy of my virtual presence with none of the body odor. It’s win-win. Basically I’ll call you and you have ten minutes to ask questions or show me your cats or whatever you like. Well. Not whatever. Keep your clothes on. But you get the idea.
To qualify for this, you buy three books. I had to pick a number that was low enough to be reasonable, yet high enough to prevent me spending the rest of my life delivering this promotion. So I chose three.
For this you can live anywhere in the world. You see, when it’s up to me, I remember my friends in far-off corners of the world, like England. I remember you.
P.S. I haven’t received my magnets yet, but when I do I’ll give some of those away to people outside of North America, too.