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A web serial is not a breakfast food

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Daedalus Howell/Index-Tribune

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When you say “web serial” out loud, it sounds like Spiderman’s breakfast. It’s a shame the term is so dopey, because what it stands for is a quiet revolution in publishing that proves the adage “everything old is new again.”

It worked for Dickens. Readers awaiting the final installment of his serialized, “The Old Curiosity Shoppe,” rioted. I fully expect you to do the same with, “The Quantum Times,” sci-fi-lite meditation on the multiverse rife with shady academics, sociopathic tech gurus, cheap booze, cheaper sex and the death of newspapers. I goes something like:

A decade after the suicide of his intern, disgraced journalist (ahem) finds himself having to help a troubled boy who claims to be from a parallel universe. The newspaperman (now low-rent blogger) thinks the kid could either be the redemption story he’s been seeking or another dark chapter of hardboiled sci-fi hooliganism and urban fantasy. It could be a helluva story … if the journo lives to write it. And, of course, someone doesn’t want him to make his deadline … Bwahah.

This novel is part of a larger transmedia project I’ve been creating, which is, in part, my attempt to map a surreal fictional universe over my hometown and even my own biography (which could actually use less surreality, but at least I’ll have my fingers on the dial). So, yeah, basically, I’m trying to be a one-man performance art piece like Shia Labeouf, but with less arrests and tears. Or – to get literary – consider this is my attempt to do for Petaluma what James Joyce did for Dublin. But with more drinking and less – just less. So much less.

After a couple of triumphs participating in National Novel Writing Month (wherein one writes a 50,000 word novel over the course of a single November), I decided to conduct my rewriting process with an “open studio” concept. Most writers work in relative isolation, often huddled in the dank corners of cafes with little more than their angst and reek to keep them company.

Writing is a lonely business that demands one’s attention to the exclusion of all other activities apart from perhaps drinking. When you drink alone, you always have to pick up the tab and I’m too social to tolerate long bouts of hacking into the void of Google Docs without some kind of feedback from the universe. Inspired by Austin Kleon’s excellent book, “Show Your Work!” that basically suggests it’s OK for one’s audience to see the man behind the curtain, so to speak, even if he’s in his boxers and shaving, which is precisely what my creative process looks like.

Likewise, I’ve been reading Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup,” which advocates shipping a “minimum viable product” to test one’s assumptions regarding a market. It occurred to me that a novel, when serialized, could function as such a product, and would allow for pivots based on audience feedback along the way. For example, you might suggest the man behind the curtain put on some pants.

As comfortable as I am running my own blog, I decided not to reinvent the wheel when it came to serializing a novel online (i.e., figuring out how to swim upstream against its user interface design to make sequential chapters appear in reverse chronology) and instead to borrow a page from Margaret Atwood’s book(s), and publish on the social-reading site Wattpad. It’s been a hit for her and its free mobile reading apps for phones and tablets offer an excellent reading experience.

Throughout this exercise, I invite you to be part of the creative process. I’ll annotate chapters with video to explain what I’m going for and how it ties into the larger body of work. If you’re inclined, please tell me where I’m going right and wrong and be sure to share. Or start a web serial yourself. I’d imagine after Spidey’s breakfast, there’s nothing stopping you from eating my lunch.

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New chapters of “The Quantum Times” are published Tuesdays at Wattpad. Visit DHowell.com for links.