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'The Silent History' turns up the noise on a new kind of e-book

The app/serial novel 'The Silent History,' a dystopian fiction told in installments and with visuals, is also a literary treasure hunt complete with GPS.

October 05, 2012|By Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

At the top of a stair street in Silver Lake, my iPhone's screen began pulsing green: I could unlock a Field Report by writer Michael Andreasen. Futuristically dated 2015, it was about a man who had built a treehouse for his silent son; their yard had a door onto the steps. I started down the stairs and turned to look at the first door I found; there, up above, was a treehouse.

The story was fictional, but for a moment it felt as if reading the words on my screen had made the treehouse materialize. That actually gave me chills, an unexpected bonus in what was already a fun, run-around-town treasure hunt.

The Field Reports are ever-expanding; within the app, readers can apply to contribute their own. "I have no idea how many submissions I'll get. That's one of the big mysteries," Horowitz says. But by the end of the first day he'd received 50 requests, a fourth of the 200 Field Reports they had started with.

Those writers are willing to be part of the project for no compensation. The official budget for "The Silent History" was shoestring — less than $6,000 — which clearly excludes costs like salaries. Horowitz spent a year conceptualizing, mapping out, developing and adapting the story as the others worked on it in between day jobs. He and Quinn formed a company with Chris Ying, editor of the successful new food magazine Lucky Peach, to manage the unconventional business side of "The Silent History."

"Publishers are looking for a template they can replicate," Kissane says. "'The Silent History' is not that at all."

It is, however, a landmark project that illuminates a possible future for e-book novels. Traditional publishers are watching but don't currently have systems in place to put such a creative project into production. The first moves, like "The Silent History," may have to come from more nimble independents.

Horowitz admits that he might try similarly ambitious e-book projects "after this one," but they probably won't be exactly like "The Silent History." It was built for specific devices that work in this moment, geared toward how we read right now. The technology may change; modes of reading may evolve in ways we can't anticipate.

"It's not like I'm saying the future is standing on a dirty street corner reading 1,000 words a day," Horowitz says. "The future is experimentation, innovation and excitement."

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