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Shop talk with Michael Turner Add to ...

Michael Turner is Canada's most elegant book mechanic. He's the author of a fantastically challenging new work of fiction, 8x10. He tends a well-kept author blog and has released a randomized version of 8x10 through an online book remixer, excerpts from which he'll be reading at IFOA tonight.

IOW: You have a blog. You've published a version of 8x10 that has been randomized in its ordering. But the writing in 8x10, I think, operates on the same principles of something as old as Aristotle's Poetics. That's the breadth of technology and knowledge available to any writer in 2009. Is it too much?

Turner: You're asking if the breadth of technology and knowledge available to a writer in 2009 is too much? I always saw it the other way around: that we are living at a time when, for the writer, the book is too little.

IOW: About the book you're right. It is stalled out, in terms of technology, at 1500 AD, and sociologically at around 1930. All other arts are availing themselves of every tool and platform possible. What I mean by "too much" is, rather, is it too much for some? Though writers such as yourself are expanding the idea of text and books, many seem to be recoiling. For example, there isn't a panel discussion about writing where a writer doesn't mention an "annoyance" with digital tools and platforms. Why do some people see tools as "problems"? And (I apologize for sneaking another question in) what new directions, for you, are showing the most potential for post-book mediums?

Turner: The problem with seeing "digital tools" as "problems" lies in the writer's inability to see the computer and the Internet less as tools than as a medium -- the analogy being that the Internet is to the palette what the computer is to the canvas. With respect to writers who see this new medium as an "annoyance," I would add that they are in fact employing the new medium to advertise what they do -- the advertisement, in this instance, coming in the form of difference. Thus, if an author identifies his or herself as a "good old-fashioned storyteller", someone of bad manners and singular genius, a romantic, a lovable eccentric whose hat is always a little bit too big for their head, then the best way to convey that fantasy -- and the book it squirted from -- is to complain about "digital tools."

Publishers are somewhat complicit in this, because for too long they cosseted and indulged their authors, until suddenly, with publicity campaigns going online, authors were told that the success of their book lay in their having an online presence. Obviously some authors have taken to this better than others, making their "platforms" more than where they are reading and how their book is "doing", thereby expanding their practices, using their books as a device by which to cast shade, create depth, movement, hopefully leading them to new places, new ways of making meaning.

As for new directions in "post-book mediums," we now have something called the "vook" (video+book= vook), though like a lot of innovations it exists more as a start-up business plan than something that is greater than the sum of its parts. At the other end, there is BookRiff, a print-on-demand content broker that I worked with to create 8x10 ( collage version), which, through a randomization of my book's various "events", gave me a four-page out-of-logic sequence that I read from at my readings.

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