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February 2017

Why is electronic literature different than traditional print?

As an ebook avoider who is more likely to thumb through an auto parts catalogue than actually look at an ebook, I realized that the first thing I had to do in exploring the world of digital literature was to get straight on what I’m talking about. I needed some definitions, because I had a sneaking suspicion that there’s a lot more out there to be curious about than just electronic books.  What exactly are the new forms that we’re seeing today?

I came across a 2013 Library of Congress program entitled “The Electronic Literature Showcase”, 3 days designed to raise awareness of the growing field of digital literary expression, which included the exhibit, “Electronic Literature & Its Emerging Forms.”

The curatorial statement for the exhibit defines electronic literature as a “digital born” literary work, or something created on a computer and usually meant to be read on a computer.

Which, honestly, makes me kind of start snoring a little bit.

But, hang on. Read through an overview of the exhibit, and it gets more interesting. Electronic literature, by this definition, is special because it takes advantage of what’s unique and different about computers and devices. It builds upon, experiments with, and extends what we’re already doing with print, but goes beyond it, in ways that print can’t.

The overview goes on to say:

Words dance across computer screens while games become poems become puzzles, or readers choose their own path through multi-layered hypertext narrative or use hand-held devices to view works that are location-aware.

It makes sense to me (especially after taking a look at some of the latest, best offerings, which I’ll share in a later post) that there really are new emerging forms of narrative that are their own animal. Think about the early days of television. People in the industry would have had to figure out that you couldn’t just slap a head-on stage production on TV – they had to figure out a whole new form, with cuts and camera angles and all the endless touches and techniques that differentiate screen from stage.

The exhibit’s notes also make the point that electronic literature is an artistic medium, just like any other medium. “Give an artist something, anything, to create with––air, animal skin, paper, computer screen––and she or he will find a way to use it for making art.” 

The takeaway: there’s a whole experimental form called “electronic literature”, which is so much more than just ebooks.

Why this blog? (And where’d I go for 4 1/2 years?)

2017 02 Spaceheadz
You may notice (ahem) that there is a wee time gap in this blog. When I started blogging several years back, I was working on the manuscript of my first novel. I wanted to be a part of the ongoing conversation around books and publishing in the kid lit world.

I was excited to plunge in, but the demands of writing took over, so I took a hiatus from blogging.

Some years later. Manuscript is done. My wise and wonderful agent, Sarah Crowe, patiently helped me to revise, and is now seeking a home for said manuscript. And I still have all the same questions, plus a few more.

I’m curious about where books and storytelling are headed, given this technological revolution we find ourselves in. I want to understand what the opportunities are for telling and delivering stories in new ways. I hope this blog will explore:

  1. What’s the state of ebooks, and other emerging forms of books today? What’s the basic vocabulary? As a physical-paper-book loyalist who doesn’t own a tablet, and an author who wants to stay up to date, remain relevant and take creative risks (without totally selling out what truly moves me), what do I need to know about the ebook industry? About this tech and kids’ books? I need a nuts-and-bolts vocabulary, and I need reasons to be inspired instead of overwhelmed. And annoyed. Maybe you do, too.
  1. What’s being done today in this field, especially for kids? What’s rising to the top, and what can we learn from the best? I’m talking about not just ebooks, but authors using digital in creative ways to extend the story. (For starters, think Spaceheadz by Jon Scieszka. That’ll give you a sense of where my heart’s really at.)
  1. Beyond the new technologies, what else is pushing the boundaries in books for kids? Whether it’s new ways of reaching reluctant readers, topics we haven’t touched before, diverse voices and characters, or subversive ways to get the message out in a newly Orwellian world—what’s on the cutting edge? And what can those on the front lines tell us about how kids read and relate to books that are busting up categories and boundaries? The ones who actually put books into kids’ hands--librarians, teachers and parents.

Let me know what questions you have about this world, and what you think is important to know. Onward.