The Wovel: Literary Alternative To Browsing Blogs

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Firstworld is the wovel-in-progress by Jemiah Jefferson Underland Press hide caption

itoggle caption Underland Press

The way we read is changing. Time once spent curled up with a good book is now often devoted to catching up on blogs, and browsing Web sites. One publishing company is trying to take advantage of those habits, offering fiction in serial form, online.

While she was working as an editor at Dark Horse Comics, Victoria Blake used breaks from work to surf the Web. "I noticed that I was using my random 10 minutes in between tasks to go to gawker.com, which is my favorite media gossip site," she says. "I realized that if I provided prose — fiction — that I would want to read, myself ... that I would use those 10 minutes to read prose, not gossip."

Blake left Dark Horse to found Underland Press, which publishes both online and traditional print books. She wanted to offer exciting, edgy fiction with a touch of the fantastic, and to make her Web site a primary component of her business. She hired Jesse Pollack to help her with Web programming, and then got together with him, some of his programming friends, a six-pack and a bag of Oreos. They came up with a format that demanded a new name: the wovel.

"A wovel is a Web novel," Blake says. "There's an installment every Monday. At the end of every installment, there's a binary plot branch point with a vote button at the end."

Programmer Pollack describes the wovel format as reminiscent of the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, with a high-tech twist: "allowing the readers to ... choose their way through and decide on integral changes in the plot."

Voting is open from Monday to Thursday, the author writes the chapter from Thursday to Sunday, and Underland Press posts the installment on Sunday night. She says it's a combination of "...the technical functionality of Web 2.0, the creativity of fiction and the pace of print journalism."

That fast pace is a challenge for the wovelists, like Jemiah Jefferson. Her traditional print books include Wounds, Fiend, A Drop of Scarlet and Voice of the Blood. She's writing the new wovel, a cyberpunk saga titled Firstworld. As a guide to writing a novel in a serial fashion, she looks to the work of Charles Dickens, who wrote many of his greatest works chapter by chapter. But with input from the readers each week, she has to be flexible. "The example of Dickens is a really interesting one," Jefferson says. "I do have a larger story arc in mind, but it's not as tightly structured as it has been for the print novels that I've written in the past."

Wovel fan Amber Ney has three children and is constantly pressed for time. She reads it at home, late at night and sometimes at work.

"If I'm in between projects ... and I happen to check my e-mail and it would say that the new installment was up, I would click over and read it," she says.

By updating the serial format used by Dickens, publisher Blake is trying to bring an industry born in the 15th century into the 21st century. As reading habits change, she says, the publishing industry has to continually figure out how to keep up.

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