One of the greatest parts of literature has always been its ability to transport people into other worlds.

In an age where people have films and video games to do the imaging for them, a new type of literature is emerging to bring the characters and stories into the reader’s world for a change. Sean Stewart, Jordan Weisman and Cathy Briggs, the co-authors, illustrators, and creators of a book series with a fully functioning understand the need for this change and have fused the gap between books, technology and their audience with their novels “Cathy’s Book,” “Cathy’s Key” and the upcoming “Cathy’s Ring.”

The “Cathy” series is part of a new genre dubbed “interactive fiction” and comes complete with working telephone numbers, websites and e-mail addresses — bringing the characters to life in the reader’s world. “Cathy’s” author, Sean Stewart claimed, “This kind of interactive entertainment will surely be to the 21st century what film was to the 20th in terms of being the defining art form.”

From what Blast has seen so far, there’s a definite possibility for this prediction to become reality.

The idea behind interactive fiction was born in 2001 when Stewart was hired to be involved in a project building a fully functional online world surrounding the Stephen Spielberg movie “A.I.” The project, dubbed “The Beast” due to its dauntingly huge list of requirements, entailed creating the world of this movie so that even five months before it came out, people could go to the website, which was according to Stewart, “literally hundreds or thousands of web pages deep”.

“You’ll go to a person’s blog and it’ll look like a real blog, except in the future . . . it’ll have a link of where they went to school, which then has links for 60 or so departments, all of which are up and running. When you e-mail these people, they will e-mail you back. We’re going to create a world and actually let you touch it. Instead of watching what happens to Lucy when she goes through the wardrobe to Narnia, we’ll let you go through the wardrobe yourself and see and touch Narnia as much as you can.”

The problem was, once the movie came out and the project was finished, it was left for dead. Stewart found himself and his colleagues saying, “that was really cool but now it’s over and people can’t play anymore because it’s over,” so they had no choice but to move on.

In creating “Cathy’s Book” and the subsequent sequels, Stewart and Weisman wanted to make sure that people could come across the series five years later and still play along. Running Press is set to release “Cathy’s Ring,” the third book in the New York Times bestselling teen trilogy. Despite the approaching end to the series, people will be able to enjoy the interactivity for a long time to come. The co-authors also wanted to make sure that it could stand alone as any other book would without the addition of its real-life communicative capabilities.

“We built it with a very simple premise: if all you ever did was just read the words of the book, that should be a great experience and you should feel fully satisfied, that by itself, should work as a book,” they said.

And it does. The story on its own is compelling and relatable, yet wildly fantastic — ready to compete with any other young adult series out there, complete with immortal boyfriends, Asian assassins, and witty banter. However, despite the inherent fantasy of the plot, opening the book itself brings you into a strange false sense of reality.

The series’ illustrator, Cathy Briggs, had a lot to do with this. Each page’s margins are covered in sketch-like illustrations, as if the artistic Cathy Vickers — the protagonist — drew these doodles while writing in her journal. Each drawing carries significance to what is happening on the particular page, and every now and then there will be little scratched in commentaries about what is printed.

Needless to say, Stewart and Briggs had to work together on this one. Stewart explained the process, saying “Jordan Weisman and I will usually talk about what we’re thinking of doing in a book and then I will go off and write the book and then send in a manuscript and we’ll go through revisions. Then I’ll sit down and write down some ideas for illustrations.”

After jotting down the ideas, Stewart and Brigg would collaborate on what drawings to include on each page, and were definitely on the same page about one aspect of the illustrations: they should not interrupt the reading of the story.

“A lot of the doodles and illustrations should be in the background and a second read, not a distraction, but yeah, we worked quite closely on developing what those illustrations should be,” Brigg explained.

Stewart conveyed the same idea: “It works the same way that a soundtrack in a movie does”.

Even as a background, it is hard not to consider how time consuming illustrating every page of a novel could be.

“It was quite intense,” Brigg admitted. “My hand was definitely falling off by the end. Some of them look quite sketchy — very crude, almost — but even so, they take quite a lot of time.”

You might have noticed the “Cathy” similarity as well – it’s no coincidence, Cathy the character is based off of Cathy the illustrator.

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About The Author

Liz McClendon is a two-time graduate of Virginia Tech and now spends her time traversing the internet, where she writes and continues her seemingly everlasting quest to be gainfully employed.

One Response

  1. Dennis G. Jerz

    I enjoyed this article, but I’d like to comment on the terminology. Computer games have been around long enough that there’s quite a bit of history behind each genre.

    “part of a new genre dubbed ‘interactive fiction’…. The idea behind interactive fiction was born in 2001”

    In fact, the term “interactive fiction” has been used since the 80s to refer to text-based games, also known as “text adventures.” The best known of these are from the Zork series, which was created in 1977.

    The term alternate reality game (ARG) is a better term for what this article calls “interactive fiction,” since ARG players aren’t just interacting with an electronic text, they are also performing real tasks in the real world.


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