FAQ about the writing of Machine Man by Max Barry

FAQ about the writing of Machine Man by Max Barry

Machine Man

Machine Man is a novel by Max Barry, currently (in 2013) being made into a movie.  This was previously published in Dark Matter issue 4, July 2011, with permission from Scribe Publishing.

A real-time what now?

Serial. It comes in lots of little parts. I called it “real-time” because people read it (and commented!) as I wrote it. I didn’t pull an old manuscript out of the drawer and chop it up: I wrote this story on the fly, for the medium. Each day, I read comments from readers about the previous day’s page and used their feedback to guide what I wrote next.

One page per day?

Right. Well, actually, one page per weekday (Monday to Friday). Because I need a break, man. Give me that.

How long is each page?

They vary. Which turned out to be a great way to control pacing, by the way. There are longish pages of 800 words and pages that are a single sentence. Most are around 300 words. That’s what I think is an ideal length for fiction-by-internet: long enough to execute a scene, short enough to consume without interrupting your day.

Reading one page per day sounds weird.

It is. It’s almost more like checking your favorite website each day rather than sinking into a novel. But it’s a little addictive, too. A lot of people seem to enjoy that part of their day when a new Machine Man page dings into their inbox.

How long is it?

One hundred eighty-five pages. Which is 37 weeks, if you stick to the one-page-per-day regimen. Less if you cheat and read ahead online.

What’s it about?

A man loses a leg in an industrial accident and decides to build a better one. Because that’s the kind of guy he is. He gradually gadgetifies himself, which attracts the attention of his employer, the Better Future corporation.

Is it finished now?

I posted the first page on March 18, 2009, and the final page on December 1. But you can still sign up for one page per day via email or feed reader, starting from page 1. You just aren’t reading the pages the same day I posted them.

Why did you do this?

Partly because some of my readers were frustrated with the delay between novels. And by “frustrated,” I mean, “accusing me of sitting around doing nothing all day.” (See my blog about it.) An alarming aspect of being an author is that you spend a couple of years on a book, then someone reads it in five hours and asks when your next one will be out. I figured a drip-feed story would keep them off my back for a while. I was also interested in using the internet to successfully deliver fiction. I don’t think the web is a great medium for novels, because novels are supposed to be immersive: you need to sit down and disappear into them. On the net, you can’t give your attention to any one thing for more than eight seconds before feeling the urge to check your email. Don’t say that’s just me. It’s how the internet trains us. I think there are a lot of gimmicky attempts to mash fiction and the web together, regardless of how well they fit. They are promotions for a print novel, essentially, rather than genuine attempts to engage the medium and work to its strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to write something that fit.

Thanks to Scribe Publications for permission to reprint this article.