Tuesday, April 3, 2012
The World Beyond
First, some links. The paperback version can be found here. The newly-completed Kindle version can be found here.
During an interview for a local newspaper (which may also wind up here if there's any interest), I was asked "So why should people read The World Beyond?" I don't do so well with that question. My gut response is "Well, you don't have to if you don't want." That's not going to sell that many books, is it? But I can't help it, I'm not going to just sit here and be like "Read it cause I am brilliant, wa ha ha." If I were to offer up one of those crappy "X meets Y" marketing calculations, I suppose I could say it's The Truman Show meets All The President's Men. If you are interested in dystopian stories, journalism, issues of corporate power, epistolary storytelling and ample sarcasm, I think you might find it enjoyable.
I'm not going to rehash the entire storyline here, though I will reproduce the plot summary from the back of the book:
In the year 2044, nearly all news and entertainment is "under the umbrella" of the huge conglomerate World Media. A highly anticipated new reality show introduces three contestants who grew up in the same small town and tosses them into a huge virtual landscape. As the world reacts to this revolutionary show, Claire Lin does not believe her daughter signed on willingly. She teams up with Drew Stephenson, an embittered print journalist whose vanishing profession gives him nothing to lose. Together, they will slowly uncover the sinister truth behind "The World Beyond."
Some of the concepts in the book have been percolating in my head for a long time. The idea of people who are unwittingly starring in a reality show has been in my brain since I first became familiar with the genre around the turn of the century. Youngins might compare that element to The Hunger Games (though the stakes aren't quite as high) but my inspirations were older films like Series 7 or the aforementioned Truman Show. For a while, I wasn't sure what format to pursue. Should it be a game, like Master of the Wind? It would have been a game with an awful lot of non-playable content. Should it be a screenplay? Maybe, but then I basically have to depend on other people for it to be seen by the public. In the end, a simple book seemed like the most logical choice.
The journalism side of it is a more recent addition. I won't sugarcoat things - this job can be very disillusioning. You often hear that you have a great responsibility to the public who reads your work, but you wouldn't know it by how the industry treats you. You get paid like crap, the benefits are middling at best, and your readers typically ignore you unless you make an error. The ever-shrinking amount of media companies is also cause for great concern...perhaps "World Media" sounds fantastical at first glance, but in the time I wrote this book, two high-profile media consolidations occurred. First Comcast merged with NBC. I recall reading numerous blogs on The Huffington Post that were immensely critical of this merger and of media consolidation in general. Later that same week, AOL bought The Huffington Post. For some reason, media consolidation stopped being popular as a blogging topic on the site. It doesn't strike me as far-fetched that one day in the future, tiny local newspaper reporters like Drew Stephenson might be the only people who can investigate the potential crimes of a media congolmerate without having to worry about a conflict of interest.
Most of the famous dystopian stories deal with the idea of the government having too much power, and history has shown time and again that is indeed something to worry about. However, these days I worry more about the inverse - government having no power. I worry about corporations becoming so deregulated that they essentially exist outside the law. Does that sound ridiculous? I hope so, but if you don't think that's the endgame goal of companies like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America or Comcast, I have a bridge to sell you in Solest.
If that makes the book sound like a bleak and cynical experience, I should note that I also tried to treat all of this with a hint of black comedy. I tend to deal with upsetting elements of life by making sarcastic comments at their expense and some of that sensibility has found its way into the text. I attempted to tell parts of the story though various "documents" - Facebook conversations, message boards, interview transcripts, etc. These sections were extremely fun to write and it was great fun to try and imitate the overall tenor of the internet. It's probably still not harsh enough - I opted not to include any racial/homophobic slurs which cost those sections a bit of authenticity - but for anyone who knows me well, there is probably at least one in-joke in there for you.
So after writing the book and revising it extensively for another few months, it was time to see if I could bring it over to Kindle and other e-readers. How hard could it have been? Really damn hard, as it turned out. What a steep learning curve. I spent another six months nearly banging my head against the wall wondering why the page breaks weren't working, why certain paragraphs weren't indenting properly, and various other shenanigans. I suspect that if I do this again, it will go smoother, but it was way more of an undertaking than I expected. I hope it will be worth the effort - books seem to be going through something very similar to what the music industry experienced ten years ago.
The whole industry is changing. This also means that self-publishing has become a more viable option. I've heard enough horror stories about publishing companies (and I have one of my own, thanks to my ill-fated attempt at a nonfiction book a few years back) that I knew this would be the path I took. I'll have to overcome the stigma of self-published novels being poorly-spelled piles of incoherence, but that also gives a potential advantage of being a pleasant surprise. If anyone reads this and decides to check out the book afterwards, I hope that's what it is for you as well.