"Woo hoo. A knife fight and pirate sex in the first chapter! Love it!" This was the very first comment posted on my serial novel-in-progress, Runaways: A Novel of Jonkanoo, now going up online, one chapter a week.
This is the gratifying part if the writing life, feedback from happy readers. It's the part that those of us who toil away just under the radar of traditional publishing crave the most. Yes, the act of writing itself is its own reward for so many of us who keep pugging away because we just can't stop ourselves; the stories demand to be told, and are liable to get pretty snippy about it if they're made to fester too long inside some murky cranial passage or other, waiting to be born. But reader response is both invaluable, and irresistible.
So while I'm working on a revision of my current novel for an interested agent, I decided to try an experiment in guerrilla publishing and start posting one of my older, unpublished novels online. Runaways is the sequel to my first published novel, my historical swashbuckler The Witch From The Sea. When the publisher of Witch switched exclusively to non-fiction, my poor little series was orphaned, yet I continue to get emails from readers wanting to know what happens next.
As a thank-you to them (now that technology has become so idiot-proof, even I can figure it out — sort of), I've started to blog Runaways online in weekly installments. It's been fun tracking down period illustrations (West Indies, 1820s) with which to gussy up the site. (When I can't find anything appropriate, I draw my own, like the reimagined Tarot card "frontispiece," above; some pages are starting to look like a graphic novel.) Pertinent links and other info are also included, like the translation of "Jonkanoo." (It refers to a holiday parade in the colonial sugar islands when slaves were allowed to playact at "freedom" for a few brief days.)
Yes, posting Runaways takes some time away from the new novel, but it's interesting how the two projects inform each other. In revisiting and re-editing each chapter of Runaways for posting, I'm impressed by the volume of historical research—when was I smart enough to know all this stuff?—and the way the themes play out. (Love! Freedom! Slavery! Fate!) The intricacy of the adventure plot gives me some perspective as I reshape the narrative in the new book, while the easygoing camaraderie of my old series characters—they literally write themselves—helps me to loosen up the characters in the new book. On the other hand, the punchier dynamics of the new novel are teaching me better ways to break up scenes and rewrite action online.
So I've been feeling very Dickensian about the whole thing. I love getting comments and emails as the story unfolds; "What next?!!" is a typical response. I even have Followers! (Okay, one of them is my husband, but still...) This is what it's all about for me, getting the story out of my head and up on the page—even if (for now) the page is digital.