Thinking about Harry Potemkin

Book Talk

I’ve turned in another draft of Eternal Queen materials for Worldspinner. This was an interesting project, with opportunities to flex my brain in new ways. The world of the Eternal Queen was reduced to a title card of “Pirates and Sea Monsters!” and I was asked to produce a short story, a dozen points of interest, and a dozen plot starters. The short story was easy. The points of interest were a bit more complicated in that they couldn’t necessarily reflect any given terrain or location as the Worldspinner engine will drop them randomly on the RPG maps when it generates them. And the plots were . . . well, it’s somewhat problematic to tell a writer to generate teasers for plots in less than 500 words. Writers tend to create situations for characters and then we want to spin them up and see what happens. Once spun up, there is a part of my brain that starts squawking, “And then what happened?”

The plots took a little while.

But the value of the whole experience is that I just spent a month or so doing a bunch of world-building for the Eternal Queen, which is going to help me immensely when I get to writing that book. My vision of that world takes place a hundred years after the material generated for Worldspinner. All of the major players will still be around, but a lot of the smaller plots I built will have little impact on the events of the book. I like that the Eternal Queen world will be out there on RPG maps and that people will be playing in it before the books come out. It’s pre-building an audience, if you will. Shamelessly so.

That’s done, and I’m getting back to FERAL in a few days, but I’m spending some of this week mulling over POTEMKIN again. It can still be read in its sprawling entirety at Farrago’s Wainscot, where it ran as part of the inaugural year. We’re still trying to figure out the best way to recreate this experience in a printed book, and the last pass resulted in us realizing that it should be a two-color book, which immediately made it expensive. And then we thought it should be a series of smaller books, nestled inside a box, which also made it expensive. And then we realized there was no real easy way to do hypertext or footnoting in an ebook, and we gave up.

But it gnaws at me still. I want to make a physical version of THE POTEMKIN MOSAIC, but I just don’t know if a) anyone will care, and b) if they do, will it be affordable? We’ve talked about Kickstarter and Patreon as options, but both have their pluses and minuses. And so on and so forth. But what really needs to be settled first is a vision. In a perfect world, what do I want it to look like?

First off, let’s start with the idea that the best approximation of hypertext in a printed format is multiple volumes. POTEMKIN needs to be consumed in a way that allows you to be distracted from where you started, yet still allows you to find your way back to where you were. Choose Your Own Adventure books always move you forward. You don’t worry about where you’ve been, and so “flip to page 38” is a perfectly functional way to explore a book. You don’t run the adventure again until you finish; at which point, it’s a new adventure. With POTEMKIN, what sends you back is your own desire to return to familiar narrative ground. To that end, separating the material into several blocks of text and presenting them as isolated objects allows for the reader to start in one book, reference another as necessary, and even pick up a third or fourth if the notes suggest as much. All without losing track of your place in the first book.

Which gives us:

THE DREAMS. The twelve dream entries in Harry’s dream journal.
THE LEXICON. The alphabetical listing of the various words and phrases that have intent within Harry’s oneiromantic journey.
TH3iR. The marketing material related to the experimental drug Bleak Zero.
THE AMAZON JOURNAL. The fragmented journal of Dr. Ehirllimbal, who ventured into the Oneiroi during a trip to the Amazon.
SAFIQ’S NOTEBOOK. The cryptic pieces from the Book of Dreams, written by the Persian mystic, Safiq Al-Kahir.
TALKING WITH NORA. The material that is mental transcriptions of conversations with Nora, the patient who disappeared into the Oneiroi under Harry’s care.
THE MAILING LIST. The collection of transcripts from the alt.oneirology.entheogens mailing list.

40K for the Dreams. 52K for the Lexicon. 8K for Ehirllimbal’s journal. 18K for the mailing list. And a couple thousand for the rest. All told, it’s about 120K, or 400 pages in a normal sized book.

As a single volume, this costs me about $5.00 a copy to make. A print run of 3,000 costs me $15K. I price it at $20, which nets me around $10, and I have to sell 1,500 of them to break even. And the question that I keep coming back to is: are there 1,500 people who want to disappear down this rabbit hole? And if so, are they going to be happy with flipping back and forth in a single volume, or would they really prefer spreading a bunch of books out on a desk and getting lost?

I looked at Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves the other day. For all his permutations and crawling into the margins, House of Leaves is still a forward moving narrative. POTEMKIN is not. It can be, but it’s not meant to be. Therein lies the crux of the head-scratching.

Anyway, more ruminating will happen. I’d be delighted to hear comments, thoughts, suggestions from anyone who has a reaction to the idea of experiencing POTEMKIN as a print volume. How would you like to see it presented? Would you prefer a halfway solution (a single volume) or would you prefer to embrace the experience fully (multiple volumes)? Would the full experience be something that you’d prefer to be limited, and possibly of higher production value (and cost)? Would you contribute to a Kickstarter for this? A Patreon? Would you like me to get back to you in a few weeks when you’ve extricated yourself from the madness that is Harry’s dreams?

This’ll keep. Or not. Because, as I mentioned, it’s gnawing at me.

2 thoughts on “Thinking about Harry Potemkin

  1. Having only briefly looked at it quite a while back, I was surprised to see just how big The Potempkin Mosaic is. I actually think it’s just nifty the way it is online, although
    being a decidely linear sort of guy I’ll probably peruse it in the most linear fashion available: reading each section through, then looking at each of the links from that section in turn rather than hopping willy-nilly from one link to another as it invites one to do. That assumes the willpower to not occcasionally satisfy my curiosity as to just what the words in this or that link really mean 🙂 So a single printed volume would likely suit me best, but that has the drawback of appearing too much like a Choose Your Own Adventure scenario, a ho-hum gimmick these many years for most who’d be attracted to TPM in the first place.
    On the other hand, a multi-volume set done right would be a very unique approach that would probably attract RPGers and the like who already delight in opening up
    their latest box of goodies. On the other other hand (not to go all Tevye on you) being forced to flip back and forth between multiple books, no matter how attractive the
    overall package, might seriously annoy the average reader. So a Kickstarter aimed at the gaming community and any other groups of non-average types you can think
    of, with advertising for the final product placed carefully enough on sites that cater to the kinds of gamers with lots of disposable income (we might delineate them as
    hobbyists) might do the trick, particularly if you can cook up similarly unique rewards for placing moderately large amounts of that income at your disposal. My thinking
    is that the most unique product you can conceive of would be the best way to go, with potentially heavy exposure for Resurrection House as the purveyor of such
    uniqueness, and a Kickstarter has the added value of allowing you to gauge demand and feasability, with nothing concrete lost if it doesn’t fund. And as a publisher you have the potential reach to not just advertise but sway online
    elements of the speculative fiction community toward free exposure as well due to the uniqueness of the product. “Look what we’re doing! Ever seen anything like that before, hmmm? Didn’t think so!” It could become a moderate to colossal success, but hardly a colossal failure. Whatever
    you decide to do with it, best of luck and I’ll support it
    any way I can.

    Mike

  2. Thanks for the thoughts, Mike. And yeah, my preference is really the online version, but getting folks to sit down and read through all that, even in a few sittings, is asking a lot. Which is what is sparking these thoughts, and you’ve nailed the conundrum nicely: how to make it interesting across several categories of readers in a way that makes it worth the time and money?

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