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New Column: DigitaLit

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Posted on Sun, Jan. 21, 2007

The word on technology: A new column on online literature

Welcome to a new column about online literature.

The moniker DigitaLit, more than a sum of its parts, means fiction
and poetry on a screen rather than a page, of course, but beyond that,
the digital medium is changing the nature of the work itself. And those
changes will be my theme.

Whether you prefer to pick up The Inquirer from your doorstep or
read it on the screen, check back here every other Sunday, where we’ll
be looking at the state of online literature – the good, the
browser-crashing, and the excitingly futuristic.

Here are a few examples:

A blogger links to audio files of poetry readings, reviewing them as though they were pop singles.

Writers of interactive fiction invite readers to participate in their work, which is part innovative literature, part game.

Novelists e-mail their stories out, one chapter at a time, enhancing
them with images and links – bypassing the gatekeepers of traditional
publishing by communicating directly with readers.

Case in point: L. Lee Lowe, an American-born fiction writer who
lives in Germany. Since July, Lowe has been publishing her young-adult
novel Mortal Ghost in weekly installments on her blog. After
all the chapters have been posted, the novel will be available for free
download as a PDF.

“What distinguishes the online medium for me,” said Lowe – in,
appropriately enough, an e-mail interview – “is the immediate feedback
from readers, and the sense of kinship between reader and writer which
can develop.”

Her novel – now in its 26th of about 40 chapters that Lowe has
written already but revises extensively each week – is an action-driven
fantasy about a 16-year-old boy who has magic abilities. Because it
lives on a blog, the story gets critical commentary from readers before
it is finished. And because it’s not fixed in print, it never really has to be finished.

“As an inveterate fiddler,” Lowe wrote, “I also appreciate the chance to edit as much as I like, for as long as I like.”

True, Lowe is publishing a good old-fashioned serial, a format
popular in newspapers years ago (and in some cases popular still;
international best-selling novelist Alexander McCall Smith first
published several of his books as installments in the Scottish
newspaper the Scotsman).

But the digital medium offers opportunities that print doesn’t.
Because of the popularity of audio books, Lowe commissioned Bill Uden,
a performing-arts student at Carmarthenshire College in Wales, to
record readings from her book in his college’s studio. Lowe, who found
Uden through a “blogging friend,” began releasing the podcasts along
with her regular posts this month.

And like many writers who publish their work online, Lowe isn’t just angling for a book contract.

“It would be disingenuous for me to say I don’t want to be read, so
I’d be perfectly amenable to paper and ink, though I’d be adamant about
releasing my work online at the same time,” Lowe wrote. “At the center
of my work is a strong conviction in open culture, freely available to

“However,” she added, “I doubt that print is doomed. At least for a
good long while, both paper and bits can happily coexist, possibly for
different purposes. There’s no need to take an either/or stance.”

Even old-media loyalists are advised to take note. As Lowe puts it,
“Fiction writers who ignore how science and technology impact on
culture, on the texture of our lives, do so at their own risk.”

For Lee Lowe’s online novel “Mortal Ghost,” see http://mortalghost.blogspot.com. For podcasts of Bill Uden’s audio version, see http://lleelowe.com/home.

Contact Katie Haegele at katieahaegele@yahoo.com. One of her current projects includes a self-published visual-art-poetry-collage chapbook with an online friend in Scotland.