The Project in a Nutshell
I want to create a rich-media fiction that expands from a simple story at its core to become a much larger work. I want the ultimate version to be a fully integrated digital work, not a digitized book dressed up with add-ons. I want the work to demonstrate the strengths and limitations of many forms and formats, to exploit them as fully as possible, and adapt to them as necessary. And I want the result, when all of that is done, to be a pleasure! I want this rich-media fiction to grip you, intrigue you, please you, entertain you, stimulate your imagination, make you think, and even inspire you.
The Heart of the Matter
At the heart of Persistence is a story about an artist at a crossroads, uncertain which way to go, how to proceed, or whether to continue with his work at all. In its ultimate form, Persistence will tell that story, and it will tell the reader quite a bit about that artist, and it will explore that artist’s problem, but it will also demonstrate or illustrate or stand as an example of the problem itself, and it will represent a solution to the problem. I think that this work will have something to say to any artist, in any medium who has felt the paralysis of self-doubt.
I want to use rich media to present Persistence to its readers—and also to explore the making of it. I want to consider the experiences that prompted me to create it; the process of creating it; the changes as the work progresses; and the problems and possibilities I discover in the course of developing a rich-media form; and I want all of that to become part of the total work.
The Whole and Its Parts
I need a metaphor for this. I’ll use clam chowder. The total work will be made of ingredients that contribute to a whole, like a bowl of clam chowder. A chowder begins with clams, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, and so forth, but when you apply the transformative magic of art (that is, cooking), you get something more than the sum of its parts. In the chowder that results, each of the parts is essential. There are no mere “extras,” like the extras added to a DVD. Every ingredient enriches the chowder. In a similar way, every enhancement of Persistence will be an essential part of a richer Persistence.
I need another metaphor for this: The work will grow like a pearl. It will begin with an irritant: an overheard conversation. Bertram W. Beath takes a fragment of that conversation and reports it in a restaurant review that appears in a glossy magazine, and from there the accounts of the incident grow and expand, with each version fuller and richer than the one before it. When the work reaches a critical size, it goes digital. The first digital layer includes all the earlier layers. The next digital layer expands on that, while also containing everything that preceded it, so that it contains it all. It is the entire work.
In the inner layers of the pearl the formats are “traditional” or pre-digital: a recording of the overheard conversation; a restaurant review written by BW that includes a fragment of that conversation; five small artist’s books, each devoted to a portion of the conversation; a chunky volume, called Perseverance, that combines the five little books; a second edition of Perseverance, with an afterword by BW discussing his motives and methods; and a recording of a reading of Perseverance with a slide show of BW’s photographs . . . and then BW’s publisher asserts his right to go digital . . . and things begin to get interesting.
I’m going to develop it step-by-step, before your very eyes. I’ll begin with the incident at the heart of it all and then begin adding, enlarging, and expanding with each step, employing various media as appropriate at each step, moving from unadorned text to rich media. I’ll present each layer of the pearl to you, my supporters, as it’s added. I’ll use my progress blog to enable you to follow my work.
The Rich-Fiction Interface
By the time the work reaches its ultimate digital version, I want it to have an interface that readers can exploit to read and experience the work in various ways. Of course it will provide text, audio, video, photographs, drawings, diagrams, and links both internal and external, but it should also allow readers to see the non-digital versions in presentations that mimic their “original” formats as closely as possible. They should have a clear and simple way to navigate the richness. They should be able to annotate the work. Ideally, there should be a version tailored to the iPad, and there should be an open-access online version.
One Author: B. W. Beath
Bertram W. Beath, “BW” to those who know him best, was for a time a restaurant reviewer for Boston Biweekly. He is now a gadfly, a sort of freelance critic-at-large, wandering here, there, and everywhere in search of beauty and pleasure. He supports his rambling life by writing restaurant reviews, travel articles, and essays on the contemporary urban scene, accompanied by his own photographs. In Persistence, at the time of the overheard conversation, he finds himself doubting the value of his work, even the value of his life. Here is a schematic diagram of the mind of B. W. Beath. We’ll explore it in Persistence.
The Other Author: Me
BW is a creature of my imagination, a character in a continuing work of fiction (see below). I have written about him before, in Reservations Recommended and Passionate Spectator, but I have never written as BW before. I’m finding that intriguing. He’s a man full of contradictions. He wears a carapace of cynicism and sophistication, but he’s vulnerable to criticism and self-doubt. When I write his work, I find myself wondering what experiences and attitudes of my own have led to my inventing him. Here is a schematic diagram of my mind, with BW lodged in my imagination. I'll explore this in Persistence, too, beginning with the question of why I chose to tell the story through BW in the first place.
Can I Do This?
Yes, I think I can. I have most of the skills that I’ll need, though I’ll have to move forward a bit (as I’ve described in “Where the Money Will Go,” below). I have experience developing multimedia programs for educational publishers. And I’m even something of a rich-media-fiction pioneer. In the early 90s, I worked with Bob Stein at Voyager to create The Complete Peter Leroy (so far), a hypertext version of four of my novels, with internal links, annotations, some photography, and even a little sound. It fell well short of rich media, but for its time it was richer than text alone.
The Big Picture
Persistence will become part of The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy, a large work of fiction that seems to be the ongoing memoirs of a fictional character who tells an alternative version of his life story; explores the effect of imagination on perception, memory, hope, and fear; and probes the painful world of time and place in search of the niches where hilarity hides. There are ten volumes so far. (Click here for a pdf that describes them.) I’ve spent part of every day of my adult life working on it. It has never been a commercial success, but it has been an artistic and critical success.
“The urge to include all of life, to be comprehensive, marks the conspicuous literary overachievers . . . and Kraft’s style . . . is related to that urge. . . . It’s as if his words could not bring enough of the world into a book.” — Anna Shapiro, The New Yorker
“Because Kraft expresses an abiding faith in steadfast love and impossible dreams, because he uses humor to shape a humanistic ethos, and because he takes profound pleasure in the resonance of language and the magic of storytelling, reading Kraft’s inventive and effervescent tales is a rare and sustaining joy.” — Donna Seaman, Newsday
“Perhaps the most ambitious and rewarding literary enterprise of our time. . . . Even when you find yourself laughing aloud, it would be a mistake to take Eric Kraft lightly.” — Andrew Ervin, The San Francisco Chronicle
“The typical Kraft novel is a laugh-out-loud read with undertones of grief and ruefulness. . . . Under the surface humor, Kraft’s take on the national experience is thoughtful, disturbing, and unlike that of any other American writer.” — Anthony Brandt, Men’s Journal
“The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy is one of the biggest, funniest, sweetest, and looniest undertakings in contemporary American fiction.” — John Strausbaugh, New York Press
“Mr. Kraft’s work is a weird wonder, successfully mating tales from the kind of small-town life that hardly exists anymore with a never-ending examination of what it’s like to create such a world.” — Karen Karbo, The New York Times Book Review
Where the Money Will Go
Production Costs: The various printed forms of Persistence will have high production values and high production costs. Buying Time: I’ve always financed my writing with freelance hackwork of various kinds. I’ll have to use some of that hackwork time to accomplish this. Expanding My Skills: I’m going to have to develop a skill set beyond basic html. Going Further: If I am very lucky and you are very generous, I can use the expanded version of Persistence as a template to begin turning the Personal History into a rich-media Gesamtkunstwerk unlike anything else that I know of.
Like a TV chef who does some pre-prep ahead of time, I’ve been at work on this “in my spare time” for more than a year. I had to know where it was going and how it would develop before I could decide to give it more of my time. I have draft and proof versions of the five small artist’s books (There I Was; Just Now, at Present; In an Undisclosed Location; In the Marketplace of Ideas; and In the Center of Redefinition), the chunky volume called Perseverance, and the second edition of Perseverance, with an afterword by BW. If you fund the project, I think that I can have the first rich-media digital version available by the end of the year, with the second, ultimate, rich-media version ready by next spring.
- (30 days)