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.