Venus on Mars

The End of Fiction

Posted in Author's Notes by janmillsapps on December 5, 2009

Stepping into the publishing future

I got close to it yesterday.

While browsing through the stacks at Borders, I heard someone nearby saying, “it’s at the end of fiction, right over there.” It was a clerk, of course, assisting a customer looking for a novel written by an author whose last name falls near the end of the alphabet (Welty?  Woolfe?  Yoshimoto?)  But stuck in my current writing morass I took the statement as more.

What happens when we reach the “end of fiction,” or more pertinent to my own situation, why keep writing fiction if the end is near?  What’s the point in trying to get my novel published as hard copy when ebooks and online media offer the same stuff, cheaper and easier to access (as in “click to download now”)?

Friend and sculptor Douglas Holmes recently suggested to me that the book that still deserves to be created on paper should offer more than text alone, like hand-crafted elements – pages or covers that are works of art in themselves.  These devices are not merely add-ons, but merge and blend with the story itself to create an experience for the reader that cannot be downloaded from Amazon or displayed on Kindle.

I bought a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel Lacuna yesterday, and after I brought it home, I realized that even Barbara Kingsolver uses a device from time to time.  This time it’s not only a small die-cut oval in the cover; inside she’s used different fonts, different formats to represent multiple voices.

What’s so wrong with devices?  In my story, Venus inherits a journal written by her great aunt, who was the actual person Wrexie Leonard, who worked at Lowell Observatory.  While researching Wrexie’s life, I discovered a 10-week gap in which she took a leave of absence without offering a word of explanation either before she left or after she returned (she rarely took a vacation; she rarely left her boss’s side).  It’s been one of my issues while writing my novel how to explain the highly unusual 10-week gap in her life, and I’m feeling uncomfortable with any scenario I’ve come up with so far.

Now I’m thinking about leaving a gap in my own novel – purportedly Wrexie’s journal – and letting the reader figure this out on his/her own – or left wondering, as I am.

I’m also creating little Photoshop collages as a way to work through my writing issues: a Victorian lady’s boot and skirts step onto a desert (Venus on Mars), a sixties-era living room with tacky seashell tv lamp and even tackier paint-by-number art framed and hanging on the wall (what Venus’s mother saw just before she died).  I don’t know yet whether these devices will end up in my book or not.

But I am thinking that the end of fiction must be the beginning of something else in which the traditional novel evolves into some form that retains its essence as story, characters, progression, escalation, resolution, but offers something that cannot be found in books as they now are constructed and marketed.

I’m looking for a publishing future that is comprehensive.  Augmentations, additional narrative materials that serve to enhance the story without stalling it out.  Interactivity should be discovered and chosen by the reader, not forced by the author or publisher.  A good book always leaves me wanting more, and perhaps its defining the “more” that will enable fiction writers to take the next leap forward.

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