“The character is loosely based around me so I think the writer, Sean Stewart, took little bits and pieces from my character and mixed them together with the concept behind this teenage girl. She’s pretty outspoken, she loves music, and has all these kind of facets to her character. . .,” Brigg said.

The love both Cathys have for music has also transferred into the release of a single for the upcoming conclusion to the series, “Cathy’s Ring,” which Brigg will actually be performing in.

“We came up with the song and wrote the structure and actually recorded it so we will hopefully be performing sometime in the future . . . it will also be released on iTunes,” Brigg said.

The “Cathy” series does not stop the innovation here. Soon all three books will be available as an iPhone application which can be read, listened to, interacted with and animated. Stewart revealed that contrary to what people might think, the amount of text teenage boys have been reading has tripled over the past few years, but it’s not from books — it’s from screens, and usually video game screens at that.

So why not put a book on one of these screens? Stewart, Weisman and Brigg have taken it a step farther here, and not only put a novel on a screen, but given the reader the ability to manipulate it and communicate with not only the story, but other people reading the story over forums. The power and technology will appeal to boys, while still remaining a bit more feminine than say World of Warcraft.

So what does this mean for the future of literature? Well, obviously books aren’t going anywhere yet — even with the Kindle waiting patiently in the wings. Just like all other art forms, literature has to evolve at some point, and Stewart has some ideas of how that’s happening right now: “It’s not all that exciting to read a book on a monitor — when you see the iPhone App, you will see that you can cap it, or slide it or twist it, or you will hear sound effects. What’s going to replace books is not books electronically. You can still make it as a poet today, but with the addition of an electric guitar — the instrument you’re playing for is not the printing press anymore. … the iPhone is the electric guitar and we’re all going to have to learn to be a little musical.”

It seems that in order to reach audiences where they are now, literature needs to become more than a one-sided conversation. “The inherent nature of the wired world is very different — it wants to interact,” Stewart said, addressing the difference between interactive fiction and entertainment up until this point. “One person puts out the signal and people sit there and watch it. It comes through your TV screen, a movie screen or in a book. Any entertainment that comes through your phone or your computer comes through a device with lots of buttons that you get to press. In the long run, entertainment built for phones and computers has to let you talk back.”

And people have been talking back. Stewart and his co-authors have been utterly stunned by the response from their readers.

“We put up this voicemail from Cathy for the first book and we went out of curiosity and realized that people weren’t just dialing the number, they were leaving messages of their own,” Stewart said.

Stewart added that many of these messages were girls sharing with “Cathy” that they had similar experiences with their boyfriends, etc. as if Cathy was a real girl with real boy problems.

“They interact with her differently than they do with characters who don’t live in the same world they do,” Stewart stated before contrasting the situation with “Gone With The Wind.” “People don’t write letters to Scarlett O’Hara saying, you know, “Ëœsorry about Rhett, hope you’ve got insurance,’ etc.”.

He experienced the same sort of response with the “A.I.” project: “At one point, the main character in the course of the storyline the grandmother who had raised her had died, the next morning in that character’s email inbox were 400 condolence e-mails. That’s a really different way of interacting with fiction.”

And he’s right about that, although we’ve started to see what this sort of massive and responsive online community can do with “Twilight.”

Becka Grapsy, a partner in the making of TwiCon — The official Twilight convention being held for the first time this summer — and producer of TwilightLive, recognizes the power of an engaged internet population.

“Look at ‘Twilight,'” she said. “The internet community became such an integral part of it, and then when the movies came along, there was the viral marketing through MySpace, Facebook and YouTube … but then people started actually meeting up, which is what led us to have events like TwiCon.”

“It’s not just a book or a forum anymore, it’s a living, breathing community, at least for a few days,” she added. “Some kind of fandom that starts off by having an established internet base, something fun and interactive to get people hooked from the beginning, can only start earlier and bounce off to bigger and greater things.”

In other words, expect big things from the still-infant genre of interactive fiction. Stewart suggested that “words don’t go away; text isn’t going to go away anytime soon,” and while this is definitely true since the internet hasn’t made books obsolete up until this point, there is also still plenty of room for literature to grow much larger than what can be written and drawn on a page.

To experiment with this alternate world, take a look here and keep an eye out for the release of “Cathy’s Ring” on May 4.

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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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