DIGITISE THIS by Adam Lowe
If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.
Language is changing. Literature is also changing. It’s about time we threw aside slavish devotion to tradition and embraced the changes that can work for us as writers and readers.
When putting together my novella, Troglodyte Rose, I used a number of different techniques. Originally the project was going to be an ‘illustronovella’, which is a fusion of sequential art (as in comics) and straightforward prose. This reinvigorated the writing process: flitting between prose and script. It certainly made writing easier and more enjoyable, because those scenes that would be written as a script didn’t require the vigorous technical detail that goes into a traditional novel. I also found the prose sections came out in almost poetic slivers. As Douglas Thompson later said of the book:
I have long harboured the hope that film might have changed writing in much the same way as photography changed painting, and that we are therefore in a bold new era where novels don’t rely on the sequential any longer, but are a series of paragraphs each as good as a poem.
Of course, I have to confess to also being a poet, so perhaps this is natural. But during the writing of this book I did reach an economy of language not present in my earlier attempts of fiction. And the paragraph really is the basic unit of meaning in my writing now. Take for example:
We are inside Hell. How can I describe it any other way? I can feel the fires of the glassworks. I can smell the sulphurous breath of our chthonic gods. I live in squalid darkness and breathe filthy air. My name is Rose and I’ve never seen the sky.
I also managed to alternate slower, more introspective prose sections with fast-paced, rampaging script for art sequences. Unfortunately due to the artists’ commitment to providing a serial for Tor.com, the overall project had to evolve.
In the end I opted to adapt the Japanese light novel as a basis for the book. Those scripted sections I’d written, which were all about action and dialogue by necessity, were converted to prose that captured the same pace and energy sequential art would have. Consider:
Underground. Outside a pharmaceutical store called Sindar’s Pharmacy.
Light comes from mirrors fixed to the vaulted cave walls and spindly,
Victorian-looking lampposts. We’re in the market district, surrounded by closed
shops, boarded up or with windows smashed. Graffiti covers the walls.
Only a couple of shops are in business, their neon signs half broken
so only some of the letters light. Two figures in the foreground,
perhaps silhouettes or perhaps only half in frame. This frame takes up
the width of the page, but perhaps only a third of its height.
CAP: THE WARRENS. A NATION UNDERGROUND.
CAP: THE ROCKY RIBCAGE OF THE PLANET ASP.
Underground. Outside Sindar’s Pharmacy. Light pours from the spindly iron lampposts and dies again mere feet away. We’re in the market district, surrounded by closed shops — buildings boarded up or with windows smashed. Graffiti covers the walls. Only a couple of places are still in business, their neon signs half broken so only some of the letters light up in half-understood promises. Our shadows are silhouetted against the door like crooked fangs, hungry for what’s inside.
As you can see, the latter is more fleshed out, but borrows directly from the script to maintain the visual aspect and keep things flowing quick and ready.
Next in the development of the novella was the website. We took the artwork, gave it to my best friend and Creative Director of Dog Horn Publishing (Michael Dark), and he created an interactive Flash-based website. This is basically a teaser which readers can explore, providing snippets and info about the book, but only enough to tantalise.
Troglodyte Rose comprises three levels: the prose, the art and the website. Together these build a multimedia text which, I hope, lends itself to a digital age with fragmented audiences, shorter attention spans and a need for stimulus. As a result, the limited edition pretty much sold out on the launch day (there are a handful of copies I kept aside just for online sales, but that’s it). It then got nominated for two Lambda Awards and made it to the finals in the Transgender category for its intersex/hermaphrodite character, Flid. Now it has been reworked, again, as a novel, which should make the Trog Rose text accessible to another (perhaps more mainstream) kind of reader.
These kinds of interstices have been explored in other areas of my work, too. Take for example my recent post as writer in residence at the local I Love West Leeds Arts Festival. Visitors to Armley Mills, where the festival was centred, were sent SMS poetry I’d written in response to my research into West Leeds and the Mills. People could keep these texts or forward them onto friends, and many of them perhaps wouldn’t have read the poetry otherwise.
Poetry and short stories are now being presented as podcasts by websites such as Poetry Jukebox and PoetCasting.co.uk. There are engaging events like Literary Death Match and Polari, and we’re witnessing the rise of the ebook. I think it’s only a matter of time before we’re having cybersex with Mr D’Arcy and exploring the worlds of H. G. Wells in virtual reality.
–Adam Lowe is a writer, journalist and publisher from Leeds, UK. He has been nominated for four Lambda Awards and three British Fantasy Awards. Kurt Huggins & Zelda Devon’s illustration for his story ‘Singer’ was awarded the Silver Editorial Award at the Sepctrum Fantastic Art Awards in 2008.
Troglodyte Rose was published in 2009 by Cadaverine Publications. Illustrations by Kurt Huggina & Zelda Devon. The novel-length version of the book is currently in the contract negotiation stage of publication and a release date will be announced in future.