Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Sharon Wildwind

According Daily Variety, the on-line version of the entertainment publication, Anthony Zuiker has signed large figure deal for three digital novels. For the complete story, go to http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117991239.html?categoryid=14&cs=1 or if that address doesn’t work, go to www.variety.com and search inside the site for Anthony Zuiker.

I think the premise for the first novel is a bit weak: CSI investigator goes rogue and takes on cases that are “too grim and graphic” for ordinary police forces. Isn’t grim and graphic what we pay police forces to handle?

That quibble aside, I had to ask myself if this was—pardon me for dropping into current jargon—the beginning of a surge? Well, maybe not the beginning.

Going back to the mystery board game I loved as a child, for me the most fascinating parts of the game was the board, which represented the floor plan of a house. I wanted to do something with that floor plan, perhaps use it to construct a real doll house, complete with secret passages.

Going back even further, the wealthy amateur criminologist, Mrs. Frances Glessner Lee of Chicago created 19 miniature “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths,” which were used to train police officer in observation and critical thinking techniques to be used at crime scenes. For a look at Mrs. Lee and her obsession, go to www.trutv.com/library/crime/criminal_mind/forensics/nutshell_studies/1_index.html

Some authors have already dipped their toes into multi-media additions to their novels. Several years ago Michael Connelley released a CD-tour of Los Angles, featuring locations mentioned in his Harry Bosch series. His web site currently lets you eavesdrop on Harry’s voice mails. I was talking to a woman over the weekend who added music to her e-book romance. She said, “After you’ve listened to the book once, you’re not likely to do it again. But readers can come back again-and-again to listen to the music.”

One of the things that impressed me about Zuiker’s multiplatform deal was the short interval between signing the contract and the promise date for the finished product. The contract was just signed. Zuiker has yet to write even the outline, but supposedly, the complete project—a 100-chapter book, 20 short videos and on-line social interface activities—will come out in 12 months. It's unheard of in the text-only book world for a book to go from concept to finished product in that length of time.

A second impressing and kind of cool thing was that reader-participants get to have input into future books. They contribute ideas on line and Zuiker promises to incorporate the best suggestions into future books. Could this be the way new authors would break into the field in the not-too-distant future? Or, would it be a detriment to would-be authors, who would remain forever stuck in coming up with cleaver ideas, but never develop the discipline to finish their own book?

Tied to the multi-platform, reader-participant idea is—not surprisingly—product placement. Sponsor’s products will be named in the book, shown in the films, and added to the web site as side bars and banners. Readers will be a click away from being buyers.

So let’s have a go at making a list, shall we? As writers and readers of mystery fiction, what multi-media, multi-platform additions would we most like to see? It's okay to go back and retrofit previous works with ideas that should have been included, had the technology existed when they were first written.

I'd love to have the locations for Sherlock Holmes stories tied to Charles Booth's "Poverty Maps" of London in an interactive site that featured not only the maps, but photographs and sounds of London. Booth, who was a contemporary of Conan Doyle translated survey data on income into beautiful hand-colored maps, which showed where different social classes lived.

Writing quote for the week:
“I want to give traditional crime novel readers a more immersive experience. [The online component] offers publishing a chance to catch up with the YouTube generation that has lost passion for reading. I personally don’t have the attention economy to read a 250-page crime novel from start to finish. I realized that the way I’d like to consume a novel is to be rewarded every couple of chapters by seeing something visual that enhances the narrative.”
~Anthony Zuiker, CSI creator


Bill Cameron said...

Consider that one of Zuiker's stated goals is a "more immersive" experience. That just shows how poorly he understands fiction. No story will get more immersive by dragging you out of the mindspace you create as you read in order to show you a video that may have little to do with the world as you've imagined it. The process will, if anything, be anti-immersive. Furthermore, the fact that Zuiker so blithely declares that he doesn't have the attention span to read a 250-page book makes him even less credible.

That said, I don't dismiss new forms of storytelling out of hand. This just seems like a gimmick to me. It may that that there will someday be good storytelling that comes out of this kind of format, but I sincerely doubt Anthony Zuiker will be the one to produce it.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

"I realized that the way I’d like to consume a novel is to be rewarded every couple of chapters by seeing something visual that enhances the narrative.”
Um, I think Mr. Zuiker has just reinvented the picture book. I wonder what 250-page books he has failed to read. Surely not the ones that keep us up till 3 am turning pages.

Anonymous said...

Having just stayed up until 1:30 turning pages, I can really relate to what you say, Elizabeth. There have been plenty of 250 page books I didn't finish, but that was because of bad writing, not because my attention span craved a reward.

Bill, what I really worry about is that Zuiker and people like him are right. That somehow dragging the reader into different mind spaces every little while is exactly how younger readers do get immersed. That would indicate a whole shift in how the mind works.

Bill Cameron said...

Well, are they getting immersed, or are they just bouncing around from one shiny thing to another? My guess is that the audience for online video payoffs aren't really readers anyway. They won't actually read the chapters that lead up to the videos, so the videos will have to stand on their own to be effective.

So what it comes back to is not so much a new kind of reading but a new way to market television. It may work, but it won't be about reading. It will be about video.

I enjoy good television and movies, so I'm not opposed to someone trying new ways to delivering good content in the video medium. But I do think it's specious to argue that some kind of mixed media words-'n-video is going to produce greater immersion. People come to reading for a very different experience than they come to video. In our current world, it may be that the video medium is more commercially viable than the written word, but they're not the same thing and I don't think Zuiker's ADD approach to storytelling is going to make readers of the YouTube generation anymore than I think its going to turn readers into people who require eye candy to enjoy a written story.

What it might do, however, is sell a lot of beer and fast food, which is what I think the whole thing is really about.