Woo hoo. A knife fight and pirate sex in the first chapter! Love it!" This was the very first comment posted on my serial novel-in-progress, “Runaways: A Novel of Jonkanoo,” now going up online, one chapter a week (runaways-jonkanoo.blogspot.com/).
This is the gratifying part of the writing life, feedback from happy readers. It's the part that those of us who toil away just under the radar of traditional publishing crave the most. Yes, the act of writing itself has to be its own reward for so many of us who keep plugging away because we just can't stop ourselves; the stories demand to be told, and we are liable to get pretty snippy about it if they're made to fester too long inside some murky cranial passage or other, waiting to be born. But reader response is both invaluable and irresistible.
So while slogging through the process of revising a new novel and searching for an agent, I decided to try an experiment in guerrilla publishing and start posting one of my older, unpublished novels online. “Runaways” is the sequel to my historical swashbuckler “The Witch From The Sea.” When the small publisher of “Witch” switched exclusively to non-fiction, my poor little series was marooned, yet I continue to get emails from readers wanting to know what happens next.
As a thank-you to them, and in the spirit of Charles Dickens, I started to blog “Runaways” online in weekly installments (now that technology has become so idiot-proof, even a hopeless Luddite like me can figure it out—sort of). It's been fun finding images to spiff up the site; there is nothing on earth more snooze-inducing than a screen full of solid, uninterrupted text. I like either period illustrations (West Indies, 1820s), or vintage images from Tarot cards or Commedia dell'Arte that tie into my story thematically. ("Jonkanoo" refers to a holiday parade in the colonial sugar islands when slaves were allowed to go about in fancy-dress disguise, like players, and playact at "freedom" for a few brief days.) When I can't find anything appropriate, I've even been known to draw my own illustrations. Is this how graphic novels are born?
Yes, posting “Runaways” takes some time away from the new novel, but it's interesting how the two projects inform each other. Re-editing each chapter of “Runaways” for posting, I surprise myself with the sheer volume of historical research—when was I smart enough to know all this stuff?—and the way the themes play out. (Love! Freedom! Slavery! Fate!) The easygoing camaraderie of my old series characters—by now, they're writing their own dialogue— helps me to loosen up the characters in the new book.
And, off course, I love getting comments and emails as the story unfolds; "What next?!?!" is a typical response. I even have Followers! (OK, one of them is Art Boy, but still ...) This is what it's all about for me, getting the story out of my head and up on the page—even if (for now) the page is digital.
But now that “Runaways” is racketing toward its grand finale (only about five chapters left, for those of you keeping score at home), you might think I'd be looking forward to some down time. A rational person should be ready to unplug from the all-consuming Borg that is the blogosphere for awhile, kick back, while away a sunny afternoon in the succulent garden, maybe indulge in the old-fashioned pleasure of reading a book, as opposed to the crazed intensity of writing one.
That person would not be me, however, so last week I launched a new online adventure: Lisa Jensen Online—Express (ljo-express.blogspot.com/). The GT uber-site houses my recent work, and my original website, Lisa Jensen Online (the handiwork of my divine webmistress, Jana Marcus), is an eclectic archive of old and new. But now that “Runaways” has taught me the rudiments (extremely rudimentary, in my case) of site layout and blog-posting, ljo-X will be a place for informal postings and random noodlings about interesting stuff that I don't always have the space or time to cover here at GT. This week, for instance, I put on my "fat lady jeans" to weigh in on Eat Pray Love, catch up (at last!) with the dreamstate that is Inception, and suggest some spellbinding books to get lost in on a hot (or foggy) summer's day.
Does the universe need yet another blogger? Oh, God, no. But sharing my enthusiasm about things like books, movies, art (who knows, maybe even Project Runway), by writing about them is as natural to me as breathing, and as necessary. (I still have boxes of old spiral notebooks scribbled over in fledgling movie reviews from my misspent youth, long before it ever occurred to me to do this for a living.) And since the first question any critic is invariably asked is "Seen any good movies lately?" (or "Read any good books?"), I'm glad to share my answers with any other interested parties.
Understand, I'm not advocating that anyone (especially me) should spend any more time at the computer than they already do. The whole point of ljo-X is to give people more reasons to step away from the keyboard and sample real life right here in Santa Cruz.
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