Our guest post today is by YA author Isabelle Merlin. For her line of romantic thrillers for teen girls, Merlin has used a variety of online interactive media such as websites, YouTubes, music downloads to engage her readers and make them a part of the story. Merlin agreed to guest post with WU to share her innovative ways to create buzz while inhancing the creative structure of her novels. THREE WISHES has just released in the U.S. but has been available worldwide.
The Internet is an amazing tool for writers. But not just as a marketing device or a delivery format, which is how it’s mostly used. Not just as a place for putting up book trailers or author blogs or for offering extracts from books or author websites. It can be used creatively, as an integral, interactive part of a book, and that’s exactly what I’ve done with my books—Three Wishes (released November 2009 in the US, also published in Australia and Poland and to be published 2010 in France and Germany; Pop Princess (released in US in Feb 2010, already published in Australia and just sold to Poland ), Cupid’s Arrow (Random House Australia August 2009) and Bright Angel (RHA April 2010. )
The books are exciting romantic thrillers for teenagers, with a supernatural touch, in the tradition of Charlotte Bronte, Daphne du Maurier and Mary Stewart, but all set in different parts of the world’s most romantic country, France, and all told in the first person by spirited sixteen-year old girls who find themselves plunged into extraordinary, glamorous and dangerous adventures.
I wanted to update and modernise the genre, to bring it into our technological age of blogs and websites and Google searches and mobile phones and You Tube and social networking sites, which are so much a part of life today. But I didn’t just want to update passively, by making references to these things in my books. I wanted to really extend the creative boundaries of the novel and to extend the characters, so as to make them even more real to readers. So I decided to use the extraordinary—and free!–possibilities of the internet to do just that.
In the first book, Three Wishes, Rose, the main character, an orphan who falls into a real-life fairytale when she discovers her grandfather is a wealthy French count, starts a blog, also called Three Wishes, for an English assignment. I didn’t just want to write about her doing it, or to include extracts from a pretend blog in the novel. Instead, I created a real blog for Rose, where she posts about her life and the things that have happened to her, puts up photos of where she goes and what she does, where her friends comment—and somebody else, someone not so nice, does as well…It ‘s at the fairychild3wishes blog and I wrote it in real time, matching dates and times and everything with the book’s events. There’s photos, and even a short story Rose writes. The blog extends Rose as a character, as well as her friends who comment, and provides an opportunity to set up links with the real places and things she sees. (It does not reveal major plot themes however—though there’s a sinister interloper turns up on the blog whose presence becomes more important and who proves to have their own, creepy blog). At various points in the book, there’s a rose symbol indicating where there’s a blog post corresponding that readers can go and check out—and they have, in their thousands! (I installed a stat counter on the blog which shows the traffic on it and it’s been very pleasing indeed.)
For the second book, Pop Princess, which is set in Paris in the music world, and whose main character Lucie dreams of being a songwriter, and writes a song called Underworld, I decided to create a real band-site so that readers could actually get to hear the song. So I commissioned some young musicians to write and record the music to the words of Underworld and I then put it up on a Bebo band page. You can hear and download the song for free at www.bebo.com/sepajamax. To extend the experience even further, Lucie and Max, another main character, have their own Bebo pages, and as well, Lucie creates a clip for Underworld to extend the experience yet again. You can see and hear that at www.youtube.com/sepajamax.
Other books similarly incorporate Web-based elements—a website on dreams for Cupid’s Arrow, for example, and more You Tube clips, ostensibly created as school projects by my main character Sylvie for Bright Angel. Free Spirit, the one I’m currently writing, has both blogs and Facebook pages. Using the Web creatively in this way is not only a lot of fun but also greatly enriches the experience for the reader, and is quite unique—I’m one of very few writers in the world using the internet in this way.
And how have young readers reacted? Very well indeed. Not only have they loved the Web elements, but that element added very much to the willing ”suspension of disbelief’ for them.
The other thing about it is not only that it’s fun for the reader—it’s been heaps of fun for me too. It’s been like being a kid again, playing with paper dolls and doing plays and creating scrapbooks and character backstories all at one and the same time. Occasionally, it feels a bit weird—as if the characters who are out there not only on the page but in cyberspace too might actually pop up and say hi! And it keeps the whole writing process fresh and exciting in a whole new way.
Visit Isabelle Merlin’s website at http://isabelle.merlin.googlepages.com. Thanks, Isabelle!