Huffpost Books
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Claudia Ricci Headshot

Is There a Way to Save Books?

Posted: Updated:


November 17, 2010

Alison Crandall, Ph.D.
Acquisitions Editor
Random House, Inc.
1745 Broadway

New York, NY 10019

acrandall@randomhouse.com

Dear Dr. Crandall:

I found our conversation this morning extremely helpful. I am grateful that you are willing to give me some time to consider my options. While the temptation to sign a contract is great, I am going to take your advice and think about what I want to do with this project. My on-line readership for the "novel" I am calling Sister Mysteries is growing quickly, and the last thing I want to do now is jeopardize the artistic success I've achieved.

The fact that you appreciate what I'm attempting to do here is so important. The Internet is having a profound impact on the way we read, and the way we write: the line between "reality" and fiction is dissolving quite nicely. What I found first with Switch!! earlier this year, and what I am finding now, here with the new book, Sister Mysteries, is that readers don't particularly care whether a story is true or not. My young literature students at SUNY certainly could give a hoot.

All they care about in the end is a good story, and most don't object to what I call the James Frey syndrome. A Million Little Pieces did a good job of faking things, but so many people (and my students!) just love the story anyway. For the average reader, the fact that Frey delivered a compelling piece of writing that felt true was all that mattered; so what that he never sat in that dentists' chair enduring oral torture without novocaine?

I promise I will keep you posted on my progress (or you can keep track yourself, here on the internet if you prefer.) I definitely will be back in touch with you after I've come to some decision about how I want to proceed. As I explained, the "inner" nun story -- a murder mystery-- is called Castenata, and it is finished, and oddly enough, has been for 16 years. It could be loaded to the site in a matter of days, but I am still writing the outer story, Sister Mysteries. I have promised myself, and my editor, Lori Cullen, at the Albany Times Union's blog,Writing in Motion, that I will finish it by the end of the year. That outer story is...well, complicated. Some might call it a healing story. Some might call it a cancer and recovery tale.

What I have been telling my readers is that Sister Mysteries, the "outer" story, is not exactly a novel, or maybe it's a novel form of a novel, a form of the novel that is inspired, influenced and informed by the way the internet (and television) more and more blur the line between truth and fiction.

With your academic background, and being in the business of publishing literary novels, I'm fairly certain that you know that the novel is a relatively recent invention; it came into being in the mid-1700s, with the expansion of the middle class. Literacy was on the rise, and people had more money to buy books, or so the historians say: Not many people know this, although I bet you do, being the voracious reader you are, that one of the very first English novels, called Pamela, published in 1740 by Samuel Richardson, is written as a series of letters from a frightened young girl who fears that her "virtue" will be destroyed by her lecherous boss. This novel is highly readable and entertaining even today, even to my young students. One reason I think the book was so appealing is that the letters felt so real!

Anyway, what I am trying to say here is that it may be time for a new type of novel! Wouldn't that make sense, considering that the world of publishing is in total upheaval, with people predicting the disappearance altogether of paper books?

Books sitting within paper covers may indeed disappear (my new novel, Seeing Red, is coming out just in time, ha!)

But seriously, don't you think we all need to be experimenting with alternatives? What will NEVER disappear are good stories. Good stories have been around forever. And stories are central to who we are as human beings.

Consider for a moment how much of our lives are immersed in stories: newspapers, TV news, television sitcoms and soap operas, movies and books. Gossip and rumor are both forms of "story-telling." We study stories in history books. We read stories in the Bible. If you really think about it, our very sense of our "selves" is tied up with stories - without our memories (i.e. Alzheimer's patients) we don't know who we are, and we are virtually helpless creatures.

So we would be lost without stories. That's why it's so important that we figure out a way to save them, going forward. We can't stop reading books, but maybe we need to figure out a different way to present them. Maybe the Ipad or even, the Iphone, will have an app someday soon to handle Sister Mysteries! I understand that people in Japan read tons of novels on their cell phones (I have a former student over there and he tells me it's wonderful! (He also happens to be a big fan of my new "blog novel.")

Something rather profound, but rather simple too, hit me one day this summer when I was tending my flower garden. I noticed a rather curious "weed;" I wasn't certain what it was. I was just about to hack it out of the dirt when I noticed the lovely pink flower growing from the leaves, and I thought, leave it there. It is a flower after all, even if we consider it, and call it, a weed.

So what I am writing here, this new book, the one you are so anxious to look at in "paper" form, it may be a novel, or it may not be. (And yes, I am finally printing out the pages, as you requested.)

What this book is, all depends on your point of view and what position you take on the issue of veracity in writing. Some of us think that no matter how true to life you try to make your writing, it inevitably falls into "fiction," if for no other reason than it is constructed out of words.

What matters, perhaps, is the emotional truth. Sometimes you can cast the truest things in the falsest words. And vice versa.

So here, on my blogs, I am allowing all manner of flowers to grow. I hope you will understand that I need space and permission to allow a few weeds in the mix.

I will be back to you in a few weeks, just as soon as I have finished the book!

Best regards,
Claudia

This letter was composed as part of Sister Mysteries, a "novel" that can be read on a cluster of interconnected blogs. Alison Crandall is a fictitious character in that novel.