Jillian Abbott’s short stories and essays have won awards and been published in the US, Australia, UK, Ireland and India. She is a freelance writer, her opinion, features, lifestyle and travel pieces have been published in the Washington Post, The New York Daily News, The Writer, The Independent (UK), The Irish Times, The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Canberra Times, among many other publications. She teaches English at the City University of New York and Long Island University, Post Campus. Anyone interested in joining the online smoking cessation group, please email Jillian at Abbott.Jillian2010@gmail.com
One man’s struggle to overcome his addiction to tobacco.
This interactive fictional account is illustrated with multimedia. An interior monologue, the story maps the ups and downs experienced when we come face to face with our own inner demons.
~~~ NOW FROM JILLIAN ~~~
I’ve been asked many times why and how I created my interactive multimedia short story “Air Quality.” Here’s why:
As a girl I loved illustrated books. It didn’t matter if the illustrations were a photo section in the middle of the book, or hand drawings scattered throughout. Once in my hand, I’d crack each book open and go straight for the pictures. After examining each photo or illustration closely and reading the caption many times, I’d plunge into the prose. Adventure stories like Kings Solomon’s Mines or Treasure Island were my favorites.
Their pictures served to wet my appetite for reading. Before writing this blog I took a moment with the Easton Press’s edition of Treasure Island. Just one glance at Edward A. Wilson’s drawing of Billy Bones, and it was all I could do not to abandon this blog and plunge into the story.
If a narrative lagged, I could always flip to the next picture. This only served to build the suspense. But illustrated fiction went out of style. In nonfiction it was mostly photos, literal representations of the subject matter, but even those I found enthralling.
Fast forward to the advent of the internet and the digital book. Once more, illustrations became common place in electronic fiction. The Guttenberg e-edition of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, for example, contains numerous enticing images. By this time I was spending many hours reading newspapers online. I loved it when they included video clips.
Then everyone began self-publishing stories and novels electronically. I had an agent and believed my novels would be traditionally published. Besides, as a long-time op-ed columnist, I knew the value of quality editing, and was very reluctant to self-publish. That was until I discovered Apple’s iBooks Author, software that allows the writer to tell the story in words, images, sounds and video. It blew me away. I had to try. The writing would remain the core; all illustrations had to be a conduit to the prose, not a distraction, or worse, a replacement. I wanted to use illustration to draw the reader in, build suspense and even drive the narrative forward.
But what to publish? “Air Quality,” a short story that explored addiction, had gotten awards in America (Glimmer Train Summer Open Fiction) and Australian (The Tom Stoppard Award for Short Fiction). Confident about the writing, I began making decisions. First, I wouldn’t read or hire an actor to read the whole story; after all, I wanted the prose read. Second, all dialogue would be spoken – acted. I needed to find a cast. The struggle my father, an Australian, went through to give up smoking following a diagnosis of Emphysema inspired “Air Quality.” Technology allowed me to have actors 10,000 miles away record the dialogue and send it to me via email.
In the case of video, I licensed some from iStock, but also had a young filmmaker shoot original footage for me. For sounds and music, some, such as the match strike were free, some had to be recorded, and some bought. The prospect of paying for the theme song for Jaws, while essential to my vison, was prohibitive. Instead, iStock offered a solution; licensing “(Cinematic) Thriller Orchestra,” different music, similar suspense. Adapting a short story to an iBook can change the original story. For example, it allowed me to add other POVs to this interior monologue in the form of other character’s spoken monologues. To hear these the reader simply clicks on the character’s photo.
With so many people and moving parts it took a year of weekends to put “Air Quality” together. Because I was a pioneer in this form, Apple helped me with some of the technical issues. When the book launched it sold, not in runaway numbers, but more than I’d earned for any short story up until then, including my Queens Noir story. It sold in the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, The Netherlands and Sweden.
Then it morphed again. A literary short story became a tool to help people quit smoking. So much feedback about its impact on readers who gave up smoking or lost loved ones to tobacco, inspired me to developed a set of discussion questions. Now I’m working with colleges, community and church groups to run smoking cessation programs. Over the summer I’ll be putting together an online discussion group based around the book. Meanwhile, few people commented on the multi-media – it worked – driving them so deep into the narrative, they got lost in its world.