Venus on Mars

Expanded Contextuality – and a New Character!

Posted in Author's Notes by janmillsapps on July 24, 2011

The last time I published a novel there no ebooks, not many blogs,and  hardly any social networking – and that was only four years ago!  Self-publishing was still in its infancy, and getting anyone to pay attention to your new book was darn near impossible.

Now nearly everyone who knows me – and a lot of folks who don’t – already know a lot about my new novel, even though it’s not yet published.

Which makes me wonder about the shifting boundaries of a work of fiction. All the words in a book used to be bound tightly inside the book itself. You had to buy it or check it out of the library (or steal it if you listened to Abbie Hoffman) before you could access its precious contents. Book ownership was prized and was practiced mainly by those well-off enough to collect expensive tomes. The home library was the ultimate, private literary playground, each hard-cover volume within it proudly displaying a book plate, “this book belongs to…”

Now the contents of a book can leak out in all kinds of ways. The author and others can quote excerpts in a blog. We can “look inside” on Amazon or, once it’s become an ebook, link to its contents. The story easily expands beyond its formal literary boundaries – “in the beginning” is not really the beginning, “the end” ends nothing, and a dust jacket offers no protection at all.

And the characters inside the story can live elsewhere – on web sites, for instance, with their own blogs and Facebook pages. Characters can spawn new characters who interact with the original characters in the story, but strictly outside its original covers.

“I’ve become a character, too,” the offended scientist emailed me day before yesterday. He’d come upon my blog and had read my resentful remarks about his negative first impressions of my novel. There followed a series of back-and-forth emails in which I defended my work and he began to see it differently. But so did I. I realized he was inserting himself into my story, and why shouldn’t he? He’s researched and published on the same subject (Mars, Venus and the other planets); he’s studied the lives of the historical folks I’ve based my characters on  (Percy and Wrexie); he even knew one of them (Charles Capen).

If writers have reached a point in the evolution of literature that allows for such “outside” influences, then we have to accept them, and possibly embrace them, when they show up in our expansive world – even if what they represent runs contrary to our own beliefs we’ve nurtured all through the writing process. It’s like we’ve “friended” each other online, but upon further examination, our facebook communities are distinct from each other, with no friends in common. My story is the overlapping section in a Venn diagram, the only common area of knowledge we share.

“Sad how narrowly people circle with those that have the same perspective,” he wrote in his email. “Literati hang with literati, scientists with scientists, etc…However, there’s a great deal to be gained from widening the baseline of one’s perceptual parallax.”

He’s right, of course. Every writer yearns for an expansive audience, but often without any clue on how to find readers outside his or her comfort zone. Now I’m pleased that one such reader has found me. It’s possible that the farther our literary creations travel outside their own comfort zones of book covers, chapters and pagination, the more daring their contextual associations may become.

Though contained inside my book, the ambitious pages of Lulu’s journal tend to wander, constantly seeking new “friends.”  She describes “expanded contextuality” perfectly:

“What if the pages were released from their binding and allowed to float freely? What if they could move in any direction? I could still choose one page or another, but the pages themselves could make their own choices, approaching or retreating in order and time, one page snuggling next to another, or racing far away from its kin. The loosened pages from one book might choose to march alongside the pages of an entirely different volume, fiction and reality combined, or fanciful poetry settling down next door to serious prose.

“Reading and understanding might then offer the same impromptu pleasures as dancing across a wooden floor, out the door and underneath the stars; changing partners as easily as we change direction, leaning and twirling with the music toward a destination not yet in place; believing fervently as we gather the pages once more that our story will be assembled in time for our arrival, that all the stars and planets will be perfectly aligned, that our future is fixed and certain – until the next moment, when an insolent breeze arrives to rearrange everything.” 

So I’ve predicted my own literary future: the words in my story have no limits, my cast of characters is still evolving, and I’m still writing the story as new ideas arrive in my brain or my in-box.

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One Response

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  1. Jeanette said, on August 15, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Remember how books came into popularity in America in the eighteen hundreds? British publishers would print, folks would buy off the shelf, get on a slow boat to America, and reprint the book here…no royalties to the original writer, no copyright violations. Who knows how many times an enterprising young book copier pushed together two books that we’ve come to know as an entirely new take?


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