Today we sit down with web author Theron Gibbons. Theron is the author of Dark Matters, a web novel that he has been serializing since early 2008. Since then, he's added three other works to the mix: Bit at Large, Orchid Bizaar, and Shadow and Mist.
This is the second installment of the Profiles in Web Fiction series. Click here for the other interviews in the series.
In Dark Matters, ChoCho and Jynx are two young lovers facing down a world almost completely devoid of human life after an undefinable event destroys nearly every city on the planet. With the work, Gibbons is undertaking an interesting writing experiment, writing in third-person, present tense in a style he calls "intimate literature."
Theron was kind enough to respond to my interview questions via email.
How and when did you start publishing online?
How did I start online? Primarily I did a lot of research into publishing, and realized that the era of the book publisher, at least in its traditional sense, may well be at an end. I really wanted to have my work seen. So I decided to have a go of it online, and do my best to make my efforts self-sustaining. I started publishing online in January 2008, with Dark Matters, and then expanded out to include three other works, Bit at Large, Orchid Bizaar, and Shadow and Mist.
Why did you decide to publish your work as serial fiction on the web?
I made the decision to publish some of my work in serial, online, primarily for the angst. People think that I mean the reader's angst, but in truth it can be quite stressful at times. Dark Matters specifically is a story written on the fly. Don't get me wrong, I have a basic outline, and through considerable hard effort, have given myself a bit of a buffer, but unlike my other stories, I made no attempt to write Dark Matters in its entirety before making it accessible to my readers. It makes the story more rigid, in some ways, because what has been written already has already been seen, and so the story simply must not derail itself. I also like the idea that readers can comment on the story as it is happening.
On another note, Dark Matters is written in an experimental style I like to call intimate literature. Not only does it shift into and out of the personal experiences of the characters, it sticks mostly to the present tense, third person, with an attempt at shift in intellect and perception based on whom we are observing. This leads to a need for expression that is best suited to a serial publication, because one can work each character in parts, building on their experiences as they work their way through whatever problems arise for them. Given the lack of risks traditional publishers are willing to take, it became obvious to me that if I wanted something like Dark Matters to actually find a reader base, it would have to be through less traditional means.
What are the benefits of publishing online? What are the drawbacks?
The major benefit to publishing online is the freedom to choose my own words, and connect directly with my readers. The only drawback is that the market itself is primarily in its infancy, so the boundaries between the writer and reader are not always so clear. There are a small number of writers publishing online who have also decided that they are literary critics or book/serial reviewers, and they have gone to great trouble to create websites whereby they review other writer's works. Criticism from my readers I don't mind, but other fiction writers reviewing my work kind of caught me off guard. I really can't see Stephen King taking a literary punch at Dean R. Koontz by writing a scathing review of Breathless for the New York Times, just as an example. Online publishing, however, seems to have different standards and boundaries entirely, and it will be interesting to see how this sort of one sided, fully public 'peer review' mentality evolves.
Do you monetize your work? Why or why not? If so, how?
I have made some attempts at monetizing my work, mostly the sales of advertising, perks, and subscriptions. The project has to pay for itself. If it doesn't, ultimately it becomes a bit of an expensive hobby, all things considered.
What do you think web serials will look like in five years?
In five years, I think we will l see them evolve into more illustrated works, with greater integration of graphics. Sort of like an online plume edition. I also think RSS feeds are going to become fully integrated with readers, like Kindle is already starting to do, making it easy to pull across serials and read them as they are posted. I also expect publishers to start using the online format to test drive new authors and gauge reader responses, though I rather figure publishers will never have the kind of clout they used to have, if simply because the media online is not theirs to control.
What tips would you share with others interested in publishing serialized fiction on the web?
Take the time to make the words you're writing as perfect as possible before you put them online, and expect readers to point out every little mistake you missed even though you probably read your piece over ten times before it was ever posted. Get uncomfortable with your writing, not with your readers. Stick to your story. Focus on the things you can control. Research everything.
Dark Matters updates once a week. To check it out, visit the site here.