Royal Flush ~ The Dennenberg Interview

With the reasonably successful start of the Baronage magazine (now in its fourth year and with its readership still growing) behind us, and then with the recent launch of our newsletter, The Feudal Herald, to encourage us, we were certain to be interested in the future of e-books ~ the latest literary development in online publishing. Accordingly, the opportunity to assist with the preparation of William Dennenberg's Royal Flush, and then to monitor its progress, had to be irresistible.

Electronic publishing is a very economic way for new authors to start their careers. It offers a far less costly approach than do the conventionally self-financed operations of the vanity publishers, and although it has acquired a mixed reputation so far, some of the offerings being of an unbelievably low standard, a few well-established authors are being drawn in experimentally. Dreams Unlimited, for example, one of the leading innovators in this field, has attracted the best-selling Diana Gabaldon onto its list (a list that includes some very readable new writers).

William Dennenberg is not really a new writer. He is one of those who recognised the opportunities e-publishing might create and, thinking perhaps more deeply about them than more conservative authors might have done, chose to experiment with what he believes might be a style of writing that onscreen reading could encourage.

Jane Forbes interviewed him about the way he applied this in Royal Flush.


~ Let's face it. It's no good us letting it just lie there influencing everything else we want to talk about. So I'll ask it first. Sam is Princess Di, isn't she?

~ No, of course not. And she's not Prince Edward's girl either. She's just an everyday English princess of the storybook kind - tall, slim, blonde, beautiful and athletic. All princesses are like that. Or they ought to be.

~ But you made her much more. You made her a thoroughly modern woman, sexually adventurous, uninhibited, a hunter. That's not the storybook princess I knew when I was a child. And your readers are going to believe they've recognised her. C'mon. You're cheating.

~ I'm not, you know. Think about it. Princesses live in fairy tales. Even when they try to live in real life, the public pushes them into a fairy tale. That was Diana's problem, of course. Now I wrote a fairy tale for adults to read, and its fairy tale princess has an adult's passions. And she had to have them. She drives the story, and I needed the story to be driven by her so that I could experiment. If it had been for conventional publication it would have been very different, for I would not have experimented. Well, not the same way.

~ Okay. These experiments. You use a very economic style, don't you?

~ For an e-book, yes. People take longer to read text onscreen than they do with a book. Even when they are using one of the little pocket e-readers, turning the pages with a flick of a key instead of a finger, they take longer. And they play with the controls, so they're more easily distracted. I think this decreases their already shrinking spans of attention, so I've tried to cater for it with less text, shorter sentences, much shorter paragraphs.

~ But that gives the reader more work. You're now asking for more than attention. While I was reading Royal Flush I felt you were demanding the active cooperation of my imagination. It was almost as though you were saying - go on, you're the director, tell the characters what they're doing, tell the camera the angle you want. It isn't poetry, but you seem to require the same sort of intelligent input poets ask of their readers.

~ Yes. Perhaps that's fair. Often, where in a conventional book I would describe, I just hint. I tried it very early on, when I rewrote the first chapter, and it seemed to work quite well. Remember where the princess is kidnapped and driven away in a camper van, and Maclean has guessed what has happened. Okay. In a conventional book he would run across the hotel yard, find the back gates hidden behind parked trucks, reorient himself in the maze of unlit side streets, race towards where he thinks the kidnappers might still be, stumble blindly through the downpour into puddles, fight the pain of his groin injury, slip on greasy kerbstones, twist his ankle, crash into a slowly-moving car as he turns the final corner, check with his flashlight that its driver is alone, and then, through the teeming rain, he'll just glimpse a camper van emerging from a gateway halfway down the road, and decide that this is the most likely .......

~ Well, that's not too bad.

~ But I might have lost the reader by then. Maclean was last seen two pages earlier, huddled in the icy rain, fantasising about the princess. Now he appears from nowhere, breathless, jumping for the van's roof-access ladder. That single word "breathless", together with the imagination of the reader, has to do all the work I'd put into a conventional thriller to describe Maclean's adrenalin-powered, guilt-ridden, gut-wrenching pursuit of the woman he is supposed to be protecting.

~ I understand what you're saying, but I don't think it works all the time. I mean, when you describe the love-in swinging beneath the hang-glider wing, well, it's so inexplicit. Is the orgasm sexual or mystical?

~ Is there a difference?

~ That's a cop-out! C'mon, what was in your mind? You pulled the same trick at the party. Instead of showing who was doing what to whom, you left it vague. We're nearly in the 21st century. You can tell it as it is.

~ It is ....... it is whatever the reader judges it to be. (And that is part of the experiment.) Look, moving into different media will always require storytellers to modify their technique. The minstrels changed theirs when print arrived (Chaucer shows much of the early transition). Techniques evolved through the centuries of print, and then changed significantly and quickly when radio began to read stories. Existing books judged suitable for broadcasting were edited, large chunks being chopped in some cases, description being slimmed down in almost all cases (the span of attention of the listener apparently being shorter than that of the reader, and, of course, the listener cannot flick back a couple of pages to elucidate a plot point.) And then the loss of description required more input from listeners than that asked of readers.

~ Would you say that novels have changed, anyway?

~ Of course. They changed with time, with education. When they first appeared as serials in magazines they followed the same principles as those novels that had been available as books (many of which had been sold to the public as serial episodes and bound by the reader). But as magazines developed into the format of those published today, the fiction author's style (in shorter stories usually) changed with the evolution of printing techniques.

~ And you expect this sort of change will apply to e-books?

~ Yes. Not overnight, but fairly quickly nevertheless. The ease of integrating graphics (at no cost, remember) with the text of novels will encourage slimmer description. Then there will be advertisements (especially on give-away CD novel collections). These will distract readers (just as they do in magazines) and that will foster, for example, the reduction of paragraph size. Authors will have to compete for their readers' attention. Publishers will have to use variations in font size and colour (again, just as they do with magazines). So you see, compared with what is coming, as an experiment Royal Flush is quite conservative. Where I've deliberately slowed the pace, it is close to a conventional novel in structure. The economy is most obvious in the action sequences, and that's where the reader has to hold tight and stay with the ride, or risk losing the thread. But the fun is just starting. Other authors, when they join the experiment, will be much more audacious.

~ So you'll write another?

~ A sequel to this perhaps, and then we'll see.

 ROYAL FLUSH is available now from Banneret Books
to be downloaded as an easily readable PDF file.

The cost for delivery by download is US$7.00.

Full details are on the Order Form.

VISA, American Express and Master Card are accepted for credit card payment.

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