Aaron Dietz: The TNB
By Aaron Dietz
November 06, 2010
Are there any specific questions you’d like to be asked?
Not really. I’ve thought a lot about this, and I had too many ideas to even focus, so I’ll just let you handle it.
Great! I’m going to skip to the big question, then. Why do you think the book has to be reinvented?
I don’t. I mean, I know I’ve basically said the book should be reinvented, but that’s not what I was really getting at. I just think a writer should consider the format in which their words are being presented, and exploit that format to enhance or improve the content whenever possible.
Aren’t the words enough?
There is nothing wrong with just words. But putting “just words” into a book without considering the font, layout, or other aspects of design is the same thing as someone reading a poem out loud without using voice inflection, hand gestures, or facial expressions. It’s the same thing as people putting on a play without costumes, a stage, or acting.
Sometimes you can get away with going up there and reciting a poem in a robot voice (like, if it’s a robot poem). But a book is the performance of a writer’s content, and ideally, the writer should consider how the content is going to be performed.
So did you spend a lot of time designing your new novel, Super?
Yes! The book designer, Charlie Potter, has described the process of creating the book already, so I won’t go into it, but I do want to say that I hope publishers will be more open to publishing books with intensive book designs in the future.
But that’s complicated. Why would publishers want to spend more time and money on production when they can just spit something out of a templated process?
For one, I think it’s a fairly easy way to get your book to stand out. As far as Super is concerned, I think the extra design effort has already paid us back in that the book is very easy to show off. People pick it up and flip through it and instantly see that it’s a work of art, and very unique compared to other novels out there right now.
How did you get your publisher on board with what you wanted to do, design-wise?
I was lucky. From the start, my publisher, Emergency Press, completely supported me in what I wanted to do with the book, and they worked with me on hiring a graphic designer who was perfect for the job.
This is rare. Most publishers aren’t comfortable giving their authors extensive input on the production of the book, and I wasn’t interested in a publisher who wasn’t going to work with me on the design, since so much of my book depended on strong design work.
Why did your book require such an intensive design?
I wanted to tell a story through a series of documents, and I wanted each document to have its own look and feel. I wanted a reasonable sense of verisimilitude. And I also wanted the book to be interactive, which also required some extra design challenges.
How is your book interactive?
Super takes place as a series of psychological exams that test whether the reader is mentally-fit enough to be a superhero. It has test questions and everything, so the reader goes through the experience of being tested and evaluated while they analyze the fictional documents in the book.
So the book is interactive not just because of the test questions but also because the reader is the main character of the story. You’re the one going through the testing, and therefore the transition, the metamorphosis. You are the hero.
So that’s why interactivity was so important in this book.
Exactly. And besides, we have enough books that whisk you off to another world where you can live for a while and completely ignore the current reality. I wanted to write something that grounded people further in their surroundings. I want people to interact, not just with my book, but with co-workers, friends, strangers, animals, the environment, voting ballots….
Do you think people are lazy?
Certainly not. The average person’s work week is long and debilitating. It takes something extra just to break out of behaving like an automaton. But it can be done. And it has to be done if we want the world to get any better.
How did people become automatons in the first place?
Good question. Maybe it was the TV, or the radio, even. Whatever the case, non-interactive, one-way mediums became the standard. Art became something you absorbed to pass the time. If it made you think, that was unusual.
But then the Internet came along and suddenly everything became very two-way. So now we’re transitioning from this one-way form of communication to a two-way form of communication and many people are waking up and participating—though, to a large extent, most of the users of the Internet get information from it without participating heavily. They’re using it like a one-way medium, so far.
What’s wrong with that?
There isn’t anything wrong with a one-way medium, really. Especially if the message of the artwork is one that makes you think.
But to some degree, there’s something arrogant and totalitarian about producing art that prohibits interaction with the audience. And in general, I think it’s healthier to produce art that inspires and encourages interactivity.
So you want people to start interacting. What’s the point?
I think it’s time for the entire human population to become participants in the development of their own planet. The Internet exists, now. It’s technically possible for every last human to be aware of and offer input on just about anything.
In the past, we had to create systems of government that excluded participation because it was realistically impossible to include everyone in the process. To some extent, I think this trained people to think of things in those terms: there are people who make the decisions and people who don’t.
And your book is some kind of manifesto for interactivity or participation?
Let’s not treat it too seriously. It’s a book about superheroes, so obviously there’s a lot of tongue being placed in cheek. Ultimately, if there’s anything I most want people to say after reading Super, it’s that they had fun reading it.
Is fun really what’s good for the world?
Yes. If you can’t have fun doing something, then you’re probably doing it wrong, or you’re doing the wrong thing altogether.
Brilliant, Aaron. Love it. And I can’t wait to read the book! I love the cover and the logo, and I love that cool jacket you wear as you go about your morning in the photos.
And I think you’re right about playing around with layout and font and etc — a great analogy, about the inflections. Joyce bent over backwards trying to do just that, for one. If he were alive today, no question he’d be on the vanguard of all this stuff, wearing his Kindle like a shield. I don’t do anything much in my new book with that, but I did discover small caps, which were a revelation. (I’m not even joking; they really were).
Thanks, Greg! I love that jacket, too. It’s a great way to provoke comments from strangers and then sneak attack them with a small sample chapter of the book. And the graphic designer (Charlie Potter) for my book is amazing–he’s responsible for the absolutely fantastic logo and great book design.
I went through a small caps phase–they’re SO cool. And the issue of KNOCK Magazine that I laid out had some in it. I don’t know why, but they just look super classy to me. I can’t wait to see your new book, Fathermucker! (Though not just because you discovered small caps.)
Maybe I don’t WANT to interact with you! What kind of fascist party game is this???
Just kidding. I’m totally going to buy this.
Will it require a pencil? I hope I need a pencil.
Heh. Both pen AND pencil will work on the book. If you’re looking at the sample pages on my website, however, I recommend you print them out before you try to write on them.
That’s so weird. That’s exactly what my husband said when I moved towards my laptop with a sharpie.
At least try a pencil, first.
I’m glad to have read this interview and can’t wait to read your book. First up Keith Richards and then you. Or maybe Keith Richards AND you. (I do have the capacity to read two thing at once. Does this make me a superhero?)
Congrats and I’ll check back in once I’m in the midst of it all!
Yes, that is now an officially approved Superhero skill. I just signed the paperwork and rushed it through Super Services Division’s Reading Committee. I’m pretty sure it’s going to pass.
Thanks for stopping by, Rachel! I’m always curious to see how people do on the quizzes–or since they aren’t really graded, what they think of specific answers…. And you’ll get to fill them out online, when you get to that point. So yeah. Um. That’s going to be fun!