Blurring the Lines Between Fiction and Reality

American Subversive by David GoodwillieBy Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World

For transmedia novelists (and publishers) to retain creative control will require more than a repurposing of content. This might give a ‘taste’ of what transmedia can ‘do’, but for it to work on all levels it must be intrinsically built in and not bolted on.

Alison Norrington, Transmedia Requires New Breed of Writers, Publishers

Back in January at the Digital Book World conference, Alison Norrington spoke about her book, Staying Single, for which she created social media profiles for her protagonist, Sophie Regan, on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. Then in March, I wrote about location-based social media and the potential, as bookseller Stephanie Anderson noted, to “check-in to the intangibles.”

Now, with the launch of, I’ve become even more curious about authors’ creating social networking profiles for their characters and websites for brands that engage with the real world, but only exist within their books.

Aidan Cole is a blogger for, a Gawker-esque gossip site that sports the provocative tagline: “A defamatory falsehood published for political effect.” And then regretted.

He is also one of the two main characters in David Goodwillie’s new – and first – novelAmerican Subversive (Scribner; April 2010). The novel, which has a traditional online presence, has received tons of good reviews, and the Associated Press called it “a triumphant work of fiction.” is still in its early stages, but it’s been gaining momentum fast, mostly as a snarky gossip blog, but also as a very cool transmedia experiment.

Explaining the birth of Roorback, Goodwillie noted that just four years ago an author could write a book, and then only be loosely involved with its online marketing plan (usually involving MySpace).“The literary landscape has changed,” he said. “The web is one giant marketing opportunity, and while a good publicist can help navigate this vast and open ocean, most of it remains uncharted, and overwhelming.  No one really knows what sells books online (or off, for that matter), though fresh ideas certainly beat annoying the world with friend requests and promotional tweets.  And so my editor, a few friends and I sat down and came up with one.”

Goodwillie describes Roorback as “a real-world blog populated by fictional characters.” What the readers see as “Aidan’s” posts are anonymously written by a few Brooklyn bloggers.

The concept is great and the execution is even better, but because the fictional Cole is engaging with and commenting on the real world, I wondered how Goodwillie manages to balance the fact that Cole doesn’t really exist.

eg: A recent Cole post about the latest YouTube sensation, Greyson Michael Chance:

And for the first time in a very long while, something resembling joy stirred in my black heart. With the pipes of an angel and the hair of the Vampyre Justin Bieber, he’s bound to get to get to second base with all the swooning groupies his heart desires… Act now, eighth grade girls, before he turns thirteen and realizes your rapidly developing female bodies do nothing for him.

As of right now, there is no overt reference to American Subversive on, except for a vague banner ad in the upper right-hand corner. People who stumble upon the site via a link or search without having read the book will most likely think it’s just another gossip blog.

“I don’t want the book to be too front and center,” Goodwillie said, “but I also don’t want people to leave the site without knowing what the real deal is.”

Zack Sultan, a collaborator on the Roorback project, said, “I think we can be very honest with the audience, and ask them to come in as collaborators in the joke rather than trying to pull one over on them. I think if we do that, and are super straight-forward, we can achieve both more focus on the book, while supporting the ‘artistic’ endeavor of the blog.”

“You don’t have to have read American Subversive to enjoy–and contribute to–the blog that lies at the heart of it,” says Goodwillie, “but as Roorback ramps up in the coming weeks, you might decide you want to.”

Where do the boundaries, if any, lie when you’re blurring the lines between fiction and reality?

And what other ways can authors expand their stories beyond the printed (or electronic) page?

Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.

Interested in learning more about using transmedia storytelling and cross-media strategies? Join us at StoryWorld, the only major gathering of industry leaders, decision makers, and transmedia specialists, to explore new business models, innovative partnerships, and fresh revenue streams.

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