I’ve been an unabashed supporter of Tom Evslin’s blook (online book) hackoff.com – An Historic Murdery Mystery Set in the Internet Bubble and Rubble. I’ve been reading it over the past few months as each episode (somewhere between 1/3rd and 1/8th of a chapter is published.) Each morning, one of the first things I read in FeedDemon is the latest episode, often with a smile on my face.
As a result, I’ve gotten to know Tom’s publisher Kelly Evans at dotHill Press. She recently invited me to participate in an online book tour that she is doing by interviewing one of the writers on the tour. I read through the list and decided to interview Mark Leslie – who is a blogger in addition to being a writer – about the blook he is currently working on called “I, Death” – A Serial Thriller In Blog Format. The questions are mine, the answers are Mark’s.
1. What inspired you to write “I, Death”
That’s a tricky question to answer, because the inspiration was part of a domino effect. Almost a year ago I looking at some writing market guidelines and this one set of requirements a publisher was looking for seemed to closely match a story I’d written when I was back in University. That tale was the sequel to the original version of “I, Death” which was a 2000 word short that I’d penned back in high school.
When I went to rewrite the sequel (because it did need a lot of work before it would be ready to be submitted to a publisher), I needed to look back to the original prequel for a detail — I think it was something as simple as a character name. The original story was the 2000 word journal entry of a frustrated teenager. I think I was originally inspired for the format by Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” which was done as a series of journal entries. The title was because I liked the title for Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” so much that I wanted to pay homage to it.
However, once I started looking at the old story, I couldn’t help but realize how much more it could have been than a quick and hard tale about teen angst and death. I considered re-writing “I, Death” and fleshing out some more of the character who had lived in my mind and heart for almost two decades.
2. Why are you writing it as a Blook?
When I started approaching the re-write of the original “I, Death” storyline, I considered modernizing it. I mean, the original was written in the mid 80’s and was the writing of a teenager in a physical journal. I imagined that if this teenager were wanting to tell his tale or write his journal entry today, it would be on some sort of an online journal.
I had started a blog back in March of 2005 and was using that as a daily warm-up exercise to get the “blood flowing” so to speak before tackling my real writing. I thus started to conceptualize the re-written tale into a format that would look like a series of blog entries.
I wasn’t very long into the re-writing of the format when the idea struck me — what if I wrote, and posted it “live” as if the writer was a real person blogging about his troubles. It would be not much different than thousands of real blogs out there, except the writer would be a fictitious character. It would be like an internet version of the old “War of the Worlds” radio play by Orson Welles.
I did a bit of research to see if there was anything else out there like it. While I’d found several serialized books being rolled out on blogs, I hadn’t yet seen anything done in this particular manner. I’m not saying that this is the only story being done like this, but in my travels I hadn’t been able to find anything like it, so thought I’d give it a shot.
3. Have you written other books? Blooks?
Two of the books that I have written will never see the light of day from the bottom of my writing drawer, and I’m fine with that. I have fond memories of working on them, but I recognize them for what they were — sophomore attempts, good for learning the trials and struggles of writing a book, but not efforts that are worthy of being shared.
In October of 2004, my book One Hand Screaming was published. It was a compilation of some of the best horror and darker pieces that I have written and had published in small press magazines for the past 15 years or so. I went with a publisher that used a “print on demand” technology, so while I recognized that the distribution into actual book stores would be limited, I was satisfied with having some of my work that had gone out of print readily available via online book retailers for those who really wanted to read my short fiction.
I’m currently shopping around my contemporary fiction novel Morning Son. I’m about half-way through writing a science fiction thriller, a novel about a werewolf, a children’s story book and a book of short plays for teaching drama to young students. I’m also the series editor for the North of Infinity science fiction anthology series by Mosaic Press (NOI 2 is due out in the new couple of months, and I’m still in the selection process for NOI 3)
I enjoy diversity in my writing projects if you can’t tell by that list.
4. How long do you think “I, Death” is going to be (e.g. is it planned out in advance, or ad hoc)?
I really like the fact that you asked this question, because I don’t truly know the answer.
That’s because “I, Death” is a combination of pre-written and improv or ad hoc writing. That’s the beauty, I think to using my character, Peter O’Mallick, as if he were a real person writing a real blog. People who read blogs often comment on them, and sometimes, comments can have an effect on what a person writes about.
Remember, the story is being told “live” so when the blog entry is posted at say 11:19 PM, I’m out there, writing the post as Peter and publishing the entry pretty much at that time.
Thus, while I already do know for sure how the story is going to end and while I have already written many of the specific plot details and storyline twists, I’m still finding myself making last second decisions to insert new elements or plot details or even twists at the point of each post.
For example, even though I do have a file in which I have some “planned” posts for specific dates and times, I’ve already diverted some items since I’ve started, modified some others, and still re-vamped entire sequences.
Readers, as well, have had an effect on Peter’s mood during certain posts and some of the subject matters that he has approached.
That, to me, makes the project more dynamic and more exciting. Back in my theatre days, I always enjoyed improv. This is like the best of both worlds. I can be self-contained in my little secluded writing world, but I can also be on stage playing the role of Peter; and the readers are helping make him three-dimensional. I’m also discovering more about Peter’s character than I’d ever originally imagined. This process itself has been excellent for that.
I guess that while I’d originally planned for this story to last maybe 3 or 4 months, I think that the readers and their interactions, and some ideas that have occurred to me along the way, have me thinking that the story might end up being a 6 month project in total.
5. What do you consider “success” for this experience?
I think I would measure success based upon three elements. One, people are reading the tale; two, those readers are enjoying the experience and three, they hopefully remember my name and keep an eye out for my writing in the future.
Therefore, even though I only launched this on January 18, 2006, to me, the experience has already been extremely successful.
The feedback I’ve received from readers has been overwhelming, and unlike any feedback I’d ever experienced as a writer before. For one, there have been many times where a reader has left a comment on the “I, Death” blog telling me the writer how much they enjoyed that particular scene or installment, or how much the character seems so real and alive. But I am moderating comments for this blog and only letting through the ones that maintain the fiction that Peter is a real person. For the others, I’m trying to let the commenter know why I didn’t publish their comments.
For that, I’ve created a “Deathreaders” forum and map at https://www.frappr.com/deathreaders. A small number of the regular readers have joined and participated there (I always think it’s an interesting concept when you can look at a map and how a group of people from various places have been linked together), but I’ve also received feedback directly by email as well as comments about my writing and this project which I’ve seen on other sites and blogs.
So, to me, it has already been successful. Anything else that happens, that’s just gravy.
In the meantime, I’m having a blast with this whole process.
Unless you don’t watch TV, don’t read the newspaper, and don’t watch Oprah (or you live under a rock), you have probably heard something about the James Frey / Oprah memoir lying thing. A few days after the rumors of this initially broke – and before Frey publicly admitted he was lying about some of the events in his books, I wrote that James Frey Should Not Be Hung Out To Dry.
Things went round and round, eventually resulting in a public admission by Frey to Oprah that he had lied about details on the characters in his book. Oprah really fried Frey, resulting in an interesting emotional backlash against Oprah on my blog. Somehow the string “James Frey Email” brought up the book review I wrote on Frey’s second book My Friend Leonard on the first page of the corresponding Google search – a week later I had 60+ comments on this post, the vast majority of them defending (and praising Frey) while simultaneously bashing Oprah.
In this midst of this, I got a question from a reader of this blog that asked “I wonder if you still stick by James Frey after his interview and admissions today on Oprah?”
I’ve taken a week to ponder this. Lying is something that I do not condone in any way, but this wasn’t an obvious “yes or no” for me. I found (and continue to find – even with the new information) Frey’s books to be remarkable. I believe I would have felt this way if they were presented as “sort of a memoir with a bunch of stuff changed to make them more powerful” and still would have felt this way if they were presented as “fiction.” Frey’s immediate response (which turned out to be a lie) to assertions that he had stretched the truth bothered me, but as I thought about the books and the author, I realized this behavior was likely self-referential and was symptomatic of the underlying issues that Frey had in the first place. So – I thought about this some more, especially what the difference is between memoir and fiction.
I then read a brilliant opinion piece in today’s Seattle Post-Intelligence titled “Press corps should take lessons from Oprah” which – when commenting on Bush’s State of The Union Address – finished with “If Bush had put all this in a book, Oprah would have called him and his publisher on the carpet. But Bush has only the Washington press corps and the enfeebled Democrats to answer to. As long as he sticks to speeches, he’s free to leave the truth in a million little pieces.”
After thinking about it for a while, I continue to think A Million Little Pieces and My Friend Leonard are brilliant books. Frey was wrong when he lied, but I believe that was part of his underlying pathology as a person and not simply a nefarious plot constructed by him and his publisher, Nan Talese, although his literary manager Kassie Evashevski seems to be really struggling with things.
The more unfortunate thing is the amount of time Oprah has spent on this, versus actually addressing lying as an underlying issue in our society. Jon Stewart is doing a brilliantly entertaining job of highlighting lies told daily (primarily by our government), but the public discourse on “lying” seems to be focused on an addict who has written two magnificent and poignant books instead of on the pervasive deceit of many people in powerful positions in our society.
Just Say No To Microsoft is a mandatory read if you fall into one of the following three categories:
1. Someone who wants to switch from Microsoft-based software to something else.
2. Someone who creates software that competes with Microsoft products.
3. Every single Microsoft employee.
As you might expect, there’s plenty of snarky stuff in a book with a title of Just Say No To Microsoft. However, it’s extremely well organized, technically deep while being accessible to mainstream computer users, and often very entertaining.
I’m a long time Microsoft fan and supporter (many of the companies I’ve been involved in over the years – including my very first one – have benefited greatly from their relationship with Microsoft.) I’ve also funded and been involved in numerous companies that either compete with Microsoft or have a distinct anti-Microsoft approach to the world. I use a bunch of Windows-based PC’s (and a nifty new Xbox 360 on my desk at my office), but I also have a very nice Mac on my desk at home that I play around with. I’ve never been much into religion (in this case, pro-Microsoft vs. anti-Microsoft), so I stay away from being aggressive about it, but try hard to understand all aspects of it.
For the categories above, I recommend this book for different reasons:
1. Microsoft Switchers: Quit talking about it – this book will help you figure out how to do it.
2. Microsoft Competitors: This book will help you understand Microsoft’s weaknesses more clearly.
3. Microsoft Employees: You want to know your weaknesses so you can do a better job, don’t you?
Today was a two book day. Both were very good. I’m pleasantly surprised. I’ve had enough intellectual stimulation for the day – I’m going to go upstairs, lay on the couch, and watch The Running Man with Amy.
With a title like Sex and the Single Zillionaire, it’s either going to be really good or really bad. This isn’t my typical genre of mental floss, but since it is the first novel written by Tom Perkins, the co-founder of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, I decided it couldn’t be missed. The dust cover got me started nicely with Rupert Murdoch weighing in with “Fun, fast – a great read!” and Newsweek commenting “Loved the sex scenes.” When Amy saw me pick it up last night, she said, “Tom Perkins – isn’t that Danielle Steel’s ex-husband?”
I read 50 pages last night and when I went to bed, I thought “uh oh, this is going to be a really bad book.” I settled down on the couch this afternoon and ripped through the rest of it. When I finished, I agreed with Newsweek and had a smile on my face (although I didn’t light up a cigarette – yes – that’s an inside joke – you’ll have to read the book to get that one.) It turned out to be really good for a first novel of this particular genre!
If you like your mental floss with lots of fluff, beautiful men and women, luxurious settings artfully described, a light plot, some primary character development (but not too much), all written with a mega-wealth twist, you’ll enjoy this. If you just want to find out how Tom Perkins writes sex scenes, you’ll also enjoy it.
I’m becoming addicted to Eminem. I had a huge breakthrough when I started thinking of it as poetry instead of music, at which point I started liking the tunes. It helped to have a little Dido tossed in for good measure. I haven’t decided yet whether or not this new addiction is a good thing.
I got the following question from a reader a week ago.
A project I’m involved with is aiming to go from a team of “4 founders with a great idea and a prototype” to a full fledged online service. I believe that even at an early stage, structuring ourselves to allow for growth/investment is critical. Naturally passion for our core mission, competence, and an ability to connect with the existing team are critical. Yet compensation (with an equity component) is a big part of the equation. I want people to have a sense of ownership and our current back of the envelope structure just isn’t suited at the moment for bringing people onto the team. To avoid reinventing the wheel, is there a “best practices” template for early stage companies with respect to structure/incorporation? What’s the smartest structure for an early stage company?
There are two logical choices (S-Corp or C-Corp) and a third one (LLC) that pops up occasionally. The best choice depends on the financing path you are ultimately planning on going down. Rather than define each of them in-depth, I’ve linked to the Wikipedia definitions which are very good.
S-Corp: If you are not going to raise any VC or angel money, an S-Corp is the best structure as it has all the tax benefits / flexibility of a partnership – specifically a single tax structure vs. the potential for double tax structure of a C-Corp – while retaining the liability protection of a C-Corp.
C-Corp: If you are going to raise VC or angel money, a C-Corp is the best (and often required) structure. In a VC / angel backed company, you’ll almost always end up with multiple classes of stock, which are not permitted in an S-Corp. Since a VC / angel backed company is expected to lose money for a while (that’s why you are taking the investment in the first place!) the double taxation issues will be deferred for a while, plus it’s unlikely you’ll be distributing money out of a VC / angel backed company when you become profitable.
LLC: Often an LLC (Limited Liability Company) will substitute for an S-Corp (it has similar dynamics) although it’s much harder to effectively grant equity (membership units in the case of an LLC vs. options in an S-Corp or C-Corp – most employees understand and have had experience with options but many don’t understand membership units.) LLC’s work really well for companies with a limited number of owners; not so well when the ownership starts to be spread among multiple people.
Based on your question, it seems like you’ll ultimately want to raise money in which case a C-Corp is probably best for you. An established lawyer who does corporate work with early stage / VC backed companies can set this up quickly, easily, and inexpensively for you – they are often the best source for the equivalent of a “best practices template” since this is routine work and requires simple, boilerplate documents and filings.
After writing a “where are the women?” at Sun post last month, my partner Heidi reminded me that two high profile Silicon Valley CEO’s – Carol Bartz (Autodesk) and Kim Polese (Sun, SpikeSource) – are Sun alums.
Last weekend, the Rocky Mountain News ran a nice profile of Barbara Bauer, VP of Software Engineering and Development at Sun’s Louisville, CO campus. Bauer (no relation to Jack as far as I know) was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame and had some good thoughts about attracting new blood into the technology field.
EDS announced yesterday that it was awarded the majority of the five-year multibillion-dollar General Motors system integration services awards. This is worth $3.8 billion over five years and – when added to the existing GM business that EDS has that was not rebid – results in annualized revenues of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion of revenue for EDS.
This is a huge deal for EDS. In early 2004 when EDS acquired the Feld Group (my uncle Charlie Feld’s company – I was an investor), the GM contract renewal was one of the major concerns that investment analysts had about the future success of EDS, as there was a substantial amount of business being rebid and there were concerns that most of it would go to companies other than EDS. While EDS’s share of GM’s outsourcing revenue will be reduced, the going forward revenue is higher then most people expected. As a result, a major long term concern about EDS has been put to rest.
Congrats to all my friends at EDS.