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The way we read is changing. Time we once might have spent curled up with a good book is now often devoted to catching up on blogs and browsing websites. To win readers back, one publisher has a new take on an old-fashioned idea. She's offering a serial novel, just as Charles Dickens used to do, but this one is on the Web. She's calling it a Wovel. It appears one chapter at a time, and readers have a say in how the plot advances. From member station KUSP, Rick Kleffel reports.
RICK KLEFFEL: While she was working as an editor at Dark Horse Comics, Victoria Blake used breaks from work to surf the Web.
Ms. VICTORIA BLAKE (Founder, Underland Press): I noticed that I was using my random ten minutes in between tasks to go to gawker.com, which is my favorite media gossip site. And I realized that if I provided prose, fiction that I would want to read myself online, that I would use those ten minutes to read prose, not gossip.
KLEFFEL: Blake left Dark Horse to found Underland Press, an integrated online and traditional print publisher. 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 genre that demanded a new name: The Wovel.
Ms. BLAKE: The Wovel is a Web novel. 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. Voting is open from Monday to Thursday.
KLEFFEL: For Web programmer Jesse Pollack the Wovel format was reminiscent of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books, with a high-tech twist.
Mr. JESSE POLLACK (Web Programmer, Underland Press): And that's what's so attractive about the thought of the Wovel, is allowing the readers to choose their way through and decide on integral changes in the plot.
Ms. BLAKE: The results go to the author, who writes from Thursday through Sunday. A new installment is posted on Sunday night and is ready for reading on Monday morning.
KLEFFEL: Victoria Blake understands this fast-paced format is a challenge for the Wovelists. Jemiah Jefferson is an author whose books include "Wounds," "Fiend," "A Drop of Scarlet" and "Voice of the Blood." She's writing a new Wovel, a cyberpunk saga titled "Firstworld." As a guide to writing a novel in a serial fashion, she looks to the past, not the future.
Ms. JEMIAH JEFFERSON (Author/Wovelist): The example of Dickens is a really interesting one. I do have a larger story arc in mind, but it's - it's not as tightly structured as it has been for the print novels that I've written in the past.
KLEFFEL: Publishing a Wovel draws on skills used more often for journalism than fiction. Proofreader Rachel Miller uses tools entirely outside the realm of Web work to ensure that the Wovel is internally consistent.
Ms. RACHEL MILLER (Proofreader, Underland Press): I find myself holding up a ruler to the monitor underlining, you know, going line by line - just, you know, looking at my style sheets, or looking back at past stories to make sure that there are, you know, consistencies between characters and plot threads.
Ms. AMBER NEY (Wovel Fan): I just don't have any time. You know, I get up really early, and I have three children, so I'm kind of pressed for time.
KLEFFEL: Amber Ney reads the Wovel at home late at night, and even sometimes at work.
Ms. NEY: Sometimes, yeah, if I'm in between projects or doing whatever, and I happen to check my email, and it would say that the new installment was up, I would click over and read it while I was at work.
KLEFFEL: By updating the serial format used by Dickens, publisher Victoria Blake is trying to bring an industry born in the 15th century into the 21st century.
Ms. BLAKE: It combines the technical functionality of Web 2.0, the creativity of fiction and the pace of print journalism.
KLEFFEL: Blake says, as reading habits change, the publishing industry have to continually figure out how to keep up. For NPR News, I'm Rick Kleffel.
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