Interview with J.J. Gadd
For podcast release Monday, October 6, 2014
KENNEALLY: There may be no “I” in team, and usually there isn’t an author either. Authors have long prized their authority, enjoying total control – not only over their writings, but also control over the readers’ experience.
Welcome to Copyright Clearance Center’s podcast series. I’m Christopher Kenneally for Beyond the Book. Novelists and others who have made the trip to Hollywood know too well the challenge – they must accommodate their imaginations to the exciting yet confining realities of a studio back lot. In 2014, writers have app developers and not movie moguls to wrestle with, yet the problem is the same – how is an author to remain true to her tale?
From Melbourne, Australia, fantasy novelist J.J. Gadd joins me to remind us that content collaboration has a long and rich history. Welcome to Beyond the Book, J.J.
GADD: Thanks, Chris. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me on the show.
KENNEALLY: Well, we are excited to chat with you. An essay you wrote for Digital Book World caught our eye, and we should tell people that J.J. Gadd has worked as a journalist and magazine editor for 15 years before she began writing the Lunation series, which is published this year by Harper Voyager – and much more on that, and we’ll link to it on our Website at lunationseries.com.
But what caught our eye, J.J., was how excited you are about the possibilities that new technologies in publishing present. And you’re really looking to explore the future of the book and the way that we read, but I think the first thing that you have to get over or authors have to get over is this whole notion that the world of multimedia presents a challenge to them. It may even be an obstacle to them.
Talk about that. How does it feel, as an author, to live in a world where there are so many other types of media competing with the written word?
GADD: You know, so there are two sides to that coin. At first you feel like a kid in a candy store because there are so many wonderful opportunities, and it’s quite exciting.
But on the other hand, where do you start? You can’t possibly learn all the technologies that are out there in order to create this work that you’ve got building up inside you, so you have to narrow down which is going to work best – which technology will work best for my book.
And then you face this reality that, because you can’t create it by yourself, you’re going to then have to look at creating as part of a team. And that’s something that I think a lot of authors haven’t thought about before. And certainly it’s not true for every book, but it was true for the kind of book that I wanted to write.
KENNEALLY: Well, indeed. And as I understand your approach, you really believe that it’s foolish to ignore – to wish away all these new options that technology presents.
GADD: I think there will always be a place for the traditional print book. People love holding a book, and people love literary works that really use that medium well. But also, on the other hand, there are so many other opportunities, as I said.
KENNEALLY: So I wonder, J.J. Gadd, whether or not you have spoken with colleagues – writers there in Australia or elsewhere around the world – who wonder whether this approach and sort of becoming a part of a team diminishes the author’s role. It seems, when we’re speaking about app development or, for that matter, even e-books that are enhanced in some way, that the writing becomes a less important part of the overall experience. Does that worry you?
GADD: I think it depends on the book. A lot of authors, I think, would take that stance. And I think about a work like Tolstoy’s War and Peace –you couldn’t imagine that produced as a team effort. That’s a, you know, literary opus. It’s a masterpiece.
But on the other hand, there are so many books that could be produced this way. And when I’ve spoken to other authors, they’ve mostly shown interest – like they haven’t actually known that these opportunities are out there. And I think that’s one of the interesting things. A lot of authors don’t know the mediums that they can use now – the new technologies that they can access. And they’re interested when I talk to them about it.
So that’s part of why I wrote the articles that I did. I wanted to – I knew that the Digital Book World audience are probably already quite educated on those topics, but a lot of the audience are also writers, and they don’t know what else is out there.
KENNEALLY: Well, there are certain types of authors who might be familiar with this – in particular, children’s authors. They’ve grown accustomed to working in a team, at least a two-person team if it’s a children’s illustrated book, where the writer has to coordinate with the illustrator. Is there a lesson to be learned from their experience and their collaboration?
GADD: Absolutely. They’ve been the early adopters of the new technology and the ones who are exploring what’s possible with that and that sort of thing.
But there’s a good reason for that, and that’s because they’re illustrated, so you’ve already got a visual medium to work with, whereas, if you look at your average novel, there’s not much in the way of illustration.
There might be a map at the front or, if it’s nonfiction, there might be a lot more but, particularly fiction – there’s not a lot to work with. There’s the cover art and, you know, maybe a map. That’s about it. So that’s one reason that children’s books are a good medium – a way good way to explore these new mediums.
But also there’s a market for them. You know, parents are willing to buy these things because they can have it on their smartphone or tablet and amuse children when they’re out and about. And also they’re educational – they’re helping children learn to read generally anyway.
So I think that’s why children’s books are a forerunner. But there’s absolutely a lesson to be learned from it. I think just because they have illustrations and it’s easier for them to be adapted, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other opportunities for novels and mainly word-based works to explore these new mediums.
KENNEALLY: Well, we are chatting right now with J.J. Gadd. She’s speaking with us today from Melbourne, Australia. She’s a fantasy novelist and a former journalist and magazine editor.
And J.J., you are speaking from experience, because you’re the author of a new series – a series of fantasy books – five books that are being released throughout this year, 2014. It’s the Lunation series.
And perhaps you can tell us very briefly about what these five books are about. I know it goes on for five books, so probably asking you to do that in a couple of sentences or two is rather difficult. But it is a fantasy series based on a kind of a mythology surrounding the moon – isn’t that right?
GADD: That’s correct. I had this idea that I could – when I was 12 years old, actually – that I could see – other people looked at the moon, and they saw a snail or various other shapes. I saw a woman trapped in the moon. And it just sort of grew from there, and I created this whole story about, well, if there was a woman trapped in the moon, how would she get out? And then all the other characters sort of grew from there.
When I went to tell the story, I wanted to find other ways to share it with readers. I wanted it to be a collaborative experience. I wanted to bring something new to it, because there are already so many wonderful fantasy books out there, I wanted to know what else I could do that might make this a bit more interesting for readers.
KENNEALLY: Right. And so even though you’ve been working on the book – at least in your head and on the page – for many years, these are digitally native books, as you call it. They are first digital, then text. And so I wonder if you can tell us about some of the decisions you made. And I think one of the challenges is you need to think about the reader in all of this. And I know you didn’t want to do something that you call gimmicky. So what did you choose to do?
GADD: That’s right. I think the danger of some of these e-books is going to far with the bells and whistles. You want to enhance the text, but you don’t want to overwhelm people with distractions or, indeed, create something that’s confusing. So I had all that in mind when I went to write the book.
And it’s more established in the later books because, by the later books, I had secured a publisher and agreed that it was definitely going to be digital only. In the first couple of books, I wasn’t sure if there was a chance it would also be print, so I had to keep it open to a print-only medium. But by the last couple of books, it was secure that it was going to be digital only.
So what I decided to do was explore the ability for readers to choose to travel with one character or another at certain points in the narrative. And then the characters all split up and you – the reader can go with one or other, but then they all come back together – the characters – and you find out – they have a brief catch-up on what they’ve all been up to. And you can choose not to go back and read the other characters’ experiences or you can read them, if you want to enhance it.
And it was kind of inspired by the (inaudible) adventure stories that I loved as a child. But it is a little bit different in that you don’t choose your own ending. You just get options along the way to hear the story from a different character’s point of view – or many characters’ points of view, if you want to read all of them.
KENNEALLY: So I can follow a single trail or multiple trails. It really depends on how curious I am or whether I’m particularly keen on one character and not so much on another.
GADD: Absolutely – and how engaged you are with the book (laughter) – and how much time you have. They’re factors as well.
KENNEALLY: Right. And so, J.J. Gadd, this is really about empowering readers. And I made a point in my introduction of linking authors and authority. They’re words that are related. And I wonder whether you feel that readers making choices changes your own responsibility as a writer. What does it do to the work in your own mind?
GADD: That’s an interesting question. I think, apart from the fact that it was quite complex to create them – and luckily I had the background as a magazine editor – I don’t have a book editing background – but as a magazine editor, you are required to hold a lot of complex threads in your mind.
And I was definitely required to do that to create this book – the spreadsheets – Excel spreadsheets – I had with timelines. And it was a bit like – I don’t know if you know the film Run Lola Run, but it was a bit like that. I had to be down to the minute of what one character was doing at the same time as another, so that they all experienced the same time differences when they all went their own ways. So it was quite complex to create.
But in terms of responsibility, I really like the idea of the reader being able to take away what they want from a book and not what I want them to take away. I mean look, that happens by itself anyway, I suppose. But I didn’t want to be prescriptive in what a reader can gain from reading something that I’ve written – if that answers the question.
KENNEALLY: Well, it’s a good answer. I’ll take it.
And finally, J.J. Gadd, we’ve been chatting about the future of the book and how new technologies are taking us in new directions, but the point that you made in the conclusion of your essay for Digital Book World was that, in your view, this is a return to the past, because the oral storytelling tradition allowed for a kind of natural collaboration.
Because stories passed from one person – other and one generation to another, they grew and changed and evolved. And it’s your view that the kind of approach you’re taking in this new digital world is very similar to that.
GADD: I think so. And there are some apps that are emerging that – a lot of apps go back to the children’s example because that is such a good example – there are so many examples – that they often take either an older book or – such as a Dr. Seuss, and they animate that and add a few sound effects or they take it to another level and produce –
There’s a company called Nosy Crow in the U.K. that are doing some really interesting work in this area. In fact they’re probably leaders in this area. And they’ve produced quite a few fairytale-based apps, and one of them is Jack and the Beanstalk.
And not only do you learn the story of Jack and the beanstalk while you participate or play or read the app, which – and you can do all of those things – they’ve enhanced the story by adding to it. So they’ve got extra characters, such as a dragon, and they’re building on this story. So it’s another whole generation adding to a story that we’ve told and loved for a long time. And it’s bringing something new to it.
And I really like that idea that we don’t – things don’t have to stay static. Our language evolves – our storytelling evolves. It’s part of our human story. And so when I think about authors being upset that maybe their sort of rights as an author are being stamped on, then I think, well, it’s not – everyone has a right to tell a story. It’s just not the sole right of an author. And so I like to think of it as part of this sort of collective storytelling about our culture and our people.
KENNEALLY: Well, J.J. Gadd, speaking to us today from Melbourne, Australia – thanks so much for joining us on Beyond the Book.
GADD: Oh, it’s been a pleasure, Chris. Thanks for having me. And I’ve enjoyed chatting with you.
KENNEALLY: J.J. Gadd is a journalist and magazine editor and the author of the Lunation series published by Harper Voyager.
Beyond the Book is produced by Copyright Clearance Center, a global rights broker for the world’s most sought-after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines and blogs, as well as images, movies and television shows. You can follow Beyond the Book on Twitter, find us on Facebook and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at our Website, beyondthebook.com.
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