It has been exactly four weeks since I began serializing my novel, Seeing Red, on HuffPost. Reader reaction to the book online has been very good.
In the last week, a couple of newspapers have featured articles on this digital publishing experiment. Interviewing me for one of those articles, Amanda Korman of The Berkshire Eagle, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, posed a question that got me thinking.
"How will you know if it is successful?" she asked.
I thought for a moment and then I told her that the logical answer would be that readership of the novel would be gigantic and that I'd sell a million copies of the book.
"But honestly," I went on, "I think the real sign of success would be that online reading of fiction would really start to catch on and that HuffPost would decide to include a FICTION section in the blog, where other writers would post short stories or serialize their novels."
I went on to say that I thought it would be wonderful if other writers were doing just what I am doing here on HuffPost, because it would help to normalize the idea of reading novels online.
We are in a revolution. A publishing revolution. Books in print are dying. Ebooks are flourishing. Writers are experimenting with books by cell phone.
The point is, I regard this serialization as an experiment. And I was hoping someone would come along and say, "Hey, I'd like to serialize my novel too." After all, there is strength in numbers.
Well, so, meet Lynn Biederstadt, a Missouri-based novelist whose first two novels were published in four languages, under the imprint of Richard Marek. The Eye of the Mind, her first book published by Putnam, was about psychics who could predict natural disasters. Her second book, Sleep, A Horror Story, was published by St. Martin's Press.
Now, Lynn has written a new novel called The Spiritkeeper, and she wants to serialize the book -- the plan is that I am going to begin serializing this wonderful new novel on my own blog, My Story Lives, beginning next week. Meanwhile, Lynn has sent the book, or part of it, to Henry Morrison, the New York literary agent who represented her first two novels. Among the writers Morrison represents is Robert Ludlum.
Biederstadt, who keeps a wonderful blog called Sky Diaries, started writing when she was seven-years-old. Her family came out of the steel mills and her dad worked his way up in the telephone company in Illinois. She produced her first novel, showed it to a friend and he recognized her talent immediately and told her she needed to get an agent.
She approached Morrison and he took the book right away.
After the second novel was published, Biederstadt had a lull in her writing life. Part of the reason for that? The publishing industry was starting to fall apart.
But then, about a year or so ago, she began writing again. Why?
"There was a gaping hole in my life," Biederstadt said. "I was born to be a writer and there was just something missing in it. I came upon the idea that I needed to write a love story, and that's what The Spiritkeeper is.
She wrote it in less than a year. I had only to read the first few lines. It was clear to me that the book had a kind of sizzling energy. Here is a snippet from the first chapter, called "The Witness."
Dead guy walking.
Heart bumping lots faster than it should have,
for a little walk like that.
Lights too bright in here. Too many people.
They don't tell you there's going to be that many people
in the place you die.
People talking. Saying nothing.
You can't hear good with your heart so loud.
Strap you down, arms stretched out like jesus.
Needle in the arm. Big needle.
Curtains open. Grey cloth.
Now you can see the witnesses
and they can see you.
Witnesses. Not friends. Didn't have friends, now.
Lawyers, plenty. No friends.
The victims families were there.
Lot of hate coming from them, coming right through the window.
Wrong hate. For the wrong guy.
Well, no reason why the last minute of your life
should be any different from how the rest of it had been.
Thank you for writing this novel, Lynn. I am really looking forward to next week, when the serialization begins!!
Meanwhile, here is the next installment of Seeing Red. To catch up on the first few installments, go to Seeing Red, where all previous chapters are stored.
In the package on the pillow there was a long black lace shawl, hand made, from Sevilla. Ronda is sitting on the bed, wearing it now cloaked over her head and face and that is the only thing she is wearing.
"Let me see you," Jesús whispers, pushing the lace away from her face. She shakes her head free and the shawl falls to her shoulders. "Nice," he says, caressing one breast. "I told my friend who bought this for you to choose something dramatic. Something that you could wear when you danced."
Ronda chuckles, rises into a kneeling position on the edge of the bed. "Considering that I've never performed, and most likely never will, I am more likely to wear this when I get old and I'm walking around this house feeling cold all the time, even in summer."
"Ah Ronda, why are you so fond of dark depressing thoughts?" He gets up from the bed, wraps himself in a large bath towel. "Anyway, when you are old you are going to be living in southern Spain with me, maybe even in that beautiful town named Ronda, and then, you'll see, you will never be cold."
"Wouldn't that be heavenly." She pulls the shawl tighter. Her face is serious, her voice quiet. "Jesús, how likely is it that you will have to stay past six weeks?"
"I don't know. It depends on how the recording goes. Sometimes it zips along and then sometimes it takes forever to get each of the songs right."
She reaches out and pulls his hand to her lips. The pale flesh of her arm peeks out between the delicate openings in the lace. "I've decided that if you are there past the end of August, then maybe I'll come over."
"Why don't you just plan on it, then, in any case? Say, right after Labor Day? We might take a little vacation, or..."
She stops, drops his hand. "No. I want to wait and be sure that you still want me to come."
"Dios mio! You make me crazy Ronda. I don't know what to do with you."
A moment of silence descends. Then Ronda ends it, smiling. "Well, how about this? How about you play one last song for me and I will get dressed and dance?" She swivels her back to him, clutching the shawl like a tight lace cocoon to her naked shoulders and hips.
He shakes his head, laughing gently. "Fine. But how come you waited until now? Until my very last hour here? How come you have always refused before to dance to my playing?"
"Maybe I was embarrassed. Anyway, a girl can change her mind, can't she?"
"Of course my darling. You, however, are changing your mind almost as often as the hands of the clock." He reaches into the corner beside the bed. Unsnapping the latches of the guitar case, he lifts the blonde instrument out of its purple velvet liner. Sets it on his toweled lap.
"But I'm afraid I can't play too long. I have two dozen things to do before I leave for the airport at four."
He starts tuning and she dresses in the only thing suitable. The black satin dress that Ben Sr. insisted on buying her the one time they visited Granada. Tight, with a red satin bodice that plunges low at the neckline. Layers of ruffle in the heavy flounced skirt bounce when she walks.
"I need you to zip the back up higher," she says, presenting him with her long naked torso.
"Hmm. Actually, no. I think it would be much better if I zip the back lower." His hands play lightly over her shoulder, and his lips go down her bare backbone right to her waist.
Goosebumps riddle her back. She smacks him playfully and turns to her closet. Stepping barefoot into her high-heeled tap shoes, she crouches down, ties the satin ribbons that close them tight over her feet.
Wrapping herself in the shawl once more, she walks to the middle of the bedroom floor. Holds the skirt out to either side.
"So? How do I look?"
When he looks up, he is smiling. And playing something too fast to dance to. At the sight of her in the dress, though, he stops. His smile fades. "And so why did you wait until today to look this way for me? Is this a plot to make me cancel the trip?"
She drops the skirt. Her lower lip quivers. "No. It's a plot to make you come back and never leave again."
He stands, holds the guitar by the neck in one hand. Takes her hand with the other. "You look more beautiful than ever. Here. Come with me. It's silly to dance in this room. On a carpet. Near an unmade bed."
Leading the way into the kitchen, he starts to open the door out to the deck. She holds back. "No, wait, Jesús. I don't dare dance out there."
"But why not? It's a beautiful day and the porch is clear and wide and sunny..."
"I can't. No. Everyone will see. I'll never hear the end of it. I'll be the laughing stock of Birch Drive. Really."
"Oh come on, what difference does it make?'
"But you've got no clothes on. And I'd be dancing on a Saturday morning wearing this dress in full view of everybody. Half the town will be talking about me by the end of the day."
"And so that bothers you?" He frowns at her, and nods in disbelief, the single lock of wet hair lying carelessly across his forehead. "Why should you care what the neighbors say. Or what they see or think?"
She sniffs. Falls back, and leans against the refrigerator, hugging the black lace shawl tighter around her shoulders. Gazing out to the backyard through the French doors, she eyes the dead vegetable garden she never got to this summer. She glances at the two houses that face her kitchen.
Ronda chews on her lower lip. Tips her head toward Jesús. Who could possibly object to her dancing in the sun with the one man in the world she adores?
"Okay," she mutters. Shrugging, she moves toward the door. "Come on. We're running out of time."
"Wait," he says. He grabs her purse from the kitchen counter. "Come here first."
She turns to face him. He reaches into the zippered compartment where she keeps her makeup. Uncapping a tube of lipstick, he reaches for her chin, balances it delicately in his thumb and forefinger, as if her jaw were a dainty porcelain cup.
Holding the lipstick up the way a child would grasp a crayon, he lays the lipstick against her mouth. Smears a lush layer of dark crimson across her lower lip. Then he dabs at the upper lip until her whole mouth is bright enough to be a tomato. As he admires his work, his dark eyebrows come together in a frown.
"There. Now you're ready," he says, nodding in approval. "My God you are beautiful."
The lipstick pulls her lips into a smile. She takes his arm, and the two of them step outside into the warm July morning. She squeezes his hand, and he squeezes hers back, as if she is about to go on stage.
And in a moment, she is on stage, to his playing. To start, he goes slowly, playing the same steady rhythm over and over. She twirls, hands over her head, wrists twisting, hips swiveling side to side, the motion taking her in a full circle. She tries to imitate the pained expression she always sees on the grim faces of the bailaoras when they dance.
Jesús picks up the pace, and her heels clatter, faster and faster on the wood, double, triple time. Her eyes close and she could be anywhere, dancing for a multitude of staring eyes. She forgets herself being there, forgets the back deck, the neat neighborhood yards, the window boxes of carnations, the gardens of blue morning glories, the beds of red impatiens.
His face bent directly over the guitar, Jesús' fingers are a blur over the strings. With no warning, he starts singing. The bloodcurdling howl shocks her. She opens her eyes to see his face, raised now, twisted in song. She has never heard him sing before. She stares. This vision of him will have to sustain her for at least six weeks. It has to carry her past the certain feeling that he is never coming back.
In her next pivot, she glances over her shoulder, across two lawns and there, before a net and a backboard and a rim, is little Trevor Daniel, the eight-year old who lives alone with his mom, Sally. He is folded over his basketball. Scooting around the asphalt driveway, Trevor shoots, jumps, twirls, and in between throws, he bounces over and over again in time with Ronda's feet coming down, battering the deck.
But when Ronda next turns, and glances over at the boy, he has suspended his play and he is standing, watching her dance. One arm raised, her wrist cocked, she looks at first to be locked in a strange lay up shot.
Trevor, balancing his basketball on his left palm, is momentarily fascinated, then confused. That's not a lay up shot at all. The boy watches the strange scene a little longer. Mrs. Fallon smiles, and raises her other arm. Trevor waves, then drops his head and calmly resumes bouncing.
Later, at lunch, he tells his mother: old Mrs. Fallon sure has a weird way of saying hello.
STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF SEEING RED on Tuesday, March 8, 2011.