This essay may also be found in the back of Charitable Getting, my second published novel.
Charitable Getting is, in a way, a book I’ve been wanting to write for a long time.
Before blogs were really visible in the mainstream, I had one, and I spent a lot of time trying to work out how one could write a story about social media and still make it accessible to the average reader. Then time passed, and I realized we’d reached a point where I wouldn’t have to make it accessible; it would simply be accessible. You don’t have to explain a blog anymore, because social media is a fact of life. At a conference I recently attended, teachers were discussing the fact that their college-age students consider email “old fashioned” – they are more likely to use Facebook or Myspace to communicate. Technology moves so fast that I ended up standing at the crossroads of “stuff I want to write about” and “stuff people care about” before I realized it.
Mind you, in twenty years, perhaps even ten, I expect this book to be outdated. In seventy years it will be unreadable, too full of anachronisms and topical references to last.
I think I’m okay with that.
This is a book written to capture a moment in time, to illustrate the cusp that we’re dancing along. As someone who has had a wide readership online for many years, I feel that I’m in a good position to talk about internet fame, both the benefits to be reaped and the dangers one can encounter. Having worked in both public relations and in the not-for-profit sector, I’m pretty qualified to talk about those areas, too, and especially the point at which all three of these things intersect. So this book came very naturally to me, over the course of the month it’s set in, December of 2009. Nothing contained in it – blogs, Twitter, smartphones, text messaging, email – should be baffling to anyone likely to read it. (If you are reading this in 2080, I’m sure Wikipedia can explain things like smartphones to you. They’re what we used to have before we got the direct satellite links implanted in our brainstems.)
As with my first book, Nameless, the reason this book exists is very much down to the fact that I have access to a lot of people who are willing to engage with my work on an unusually active level. When I set out to write this afterword I wanted to speak about “the 2500” who reviewed this book in its Extribulum state, and to whom my last book was dedicated. Recently that number has grown, however, so I am very proud to say thank you to my 2800 Marching Editors, and welcome to our 300 new members of the digital publishing community, not to mention you lovely lurkers who haven’t got journals.
You matter. The books are proof of that.
Extribulum, as a concept, originally meant simply a book published at the dawn of the digital age, a book which existed first on a server and only after on paper. Extribulum means “out from the machine” and refers to another slightly more legitimate term: Incunabulum, a name for books printed – rather than hand-drafted – before the prevalence of the printing press, an era arbitrarily defined as ending in AD1501. Now you have learned a fun fact for the day!
Over the course of the two years since Extribulum first came into the digital lexicon, it has evolved. This is not simply due to my own work with it but also to several bright sparks who have continued the work, building blogs and Twitter accounts and even a publishing house (Candlemark & Gleam) with Extribulum as, if not the guiding principle, then at the very least a foundation-stone. Extribulum now denotes not only a digital existence but a digital birth – a book which is made available online for the purpose of receiving criticism and commentary from a volunteer readership, or which is sold exclusively online with only “collector’s edition” hard-copies. It inherently implies a new way of looking at publishing, which is very necessary in this post-Kindle world of ours.
I like printed books. I like the way they smell, the way they never run out of battery power, the way you can write in them and dogear pages and abuse them into becoming something uniquely yours. I have loved seeing photographs of Nameless in various countries and locales, but also in various states of repair – foxed, dogeared, torn, chewed-on, and singed around the edges from a house fire. This is proof of love. I don’t want printed books to die out; they’re far too useful and beautiful.
That said, I don’t think our conception of the book can stay static much longer. I like computers, too. I like the internet. I like that I can keep a shelf’s worth of books on a memory card roughly the size of a potato chip. For about 80% of this book’s pre-publication life, it existed as a file on a thumb drive, worn on a cord around my neck. It costs me nothing to make Charitable Getting digitally available to you, which increases the chances that you, acquiring it, will be able to enjoy it and spread it around.
I don’t know where digital publishing is going. I wish like hell I did. My contribution to it is this word, Extribulum, and these books. They are, if nothing else, a commitment to the first principle of the term: that we are not made up of sellers and buyers, but of writers and readers. I am dedicated to the idea that I can please myself, share my stories, and earn a little cash on the side, if I will only bow to the work and trust my readers to be honest with me.
Among those readers are a few people to whom I owe a special debt of gratitude. They were both inspiration for the novel and instrumental critics during its writing: Amanda, Anya, Carolyn, Claire, Eliza, Foxy, Gypsy, Jenny, Katrina, Nick, Spider, and Thad. They all tolerated more than anyone should tolerate from a writer; they gave suggestions, cracked jokes, fixed my spelling, and generally kept me going while I was writing it.
Unlike Nameless, which was a rope ladder out of a place of despair, Charitable Getting is the product of joy: joy in the work I and others around me do, joy in the city in which I live, joy in the gifts I’ve been given.
It has been frustrating, complicated, and difficult, teaching lessons that I didn’t want to learn but needed all the same. I’m still trying to master some of it. But it has always, always been about joy. When I think about this book I remember snowfall in Chicago, drinks after work with my boss, and evenings spent working on it while curled up under the electric blanket.
I hope you’ve had as much fun being my reader as I have had being your writer.