‘Transmedia' storytelling could be the future for some authors


In the new iPad game "Dynasty of the Magi," you create a character and then enter a virtual online world, joining other adventurers in a battle of good versus evil.

But unlike many other fantasy games, a rotating, animated book allows players to read an entire novel of more than 350 pages, "Rites of Passage." The book, by Derrick Garvin, who also created the game, is to be the first of 11 novels that the online multiplayer game is based on. The novels, subsequently, will be informed by characters created by real people and battles fought within the game.

‘'It's a book and a game at the same time," said Garvin, whose New York City-based company PoetCode LLC, is building the online world of "Dynasty." ‘'I wanted to combine those side by side."

The project may sound wildly ambitious (it is), but last week, "Dynasty of the Magi," which is still so new that PoetCode doesn't have its own website, won an award from the Publishing Innovation Awards for "Best Transmedia Project" at the Digital Book World Conference in New York.

The word "transmedia" itself has come to represent a concept that doesn't mean the same thing to everyone, especially in publishing. It's meant to convey a creative approach to storytelling that uses multiple kinds of media. A company that makes toys and builds a TV show and video game around, say, adorably magical pony friends would be engaging in transmedia storytelling.

But Garvin is working in a kind of transmedia that combines traditional book publishing with video games, social media and mobile devices like the iPad. It may be a glimpse of what some authors aim for in the future as the ability to produce digital worlds and interactive versions of their work gets cheaper and easier.

Right now, it's not easy. Garvin based his world on more than a decade of an original online role-playing game he ran with friends. He wanted to combine the kinds of fantasy he grew up with like "Lord of the Rings" and "Star Trek" with the reality of his life: growing up around gangs in East New Jersey.

Friends told Garvin that the role-playing game's story was so good, "You should write a book of this," he said. After working on a book for several years, he got excited about translating it into an interactive iPad app. Now, his company has a technology team, investors and publicists from Austin's Space Chimp Media.

But will "Dynasty" have an audience? Garvin is betting that this hybrid storytelling, which he calls "Limo" for "Literary/mobile," will have legs if it appeals to fans of fantasy who want to be part of an ongoing epic story in the making.

Garvin is planning to release a new novel every six months tied into the game and for the outcome of the text to relate to the ongoing conflicts in the virtual world over the next five or six years. "I'm using the game world as another tool for the author," he said. "It's almost like you're playing tennis with the player."

The project calls to mind Austin author Jan Bozarth, who created "The Fairy Godmother Academy" books and online world for young girls. The first title, "Birdie's Book," debuted in 2009. Now, the sixth volume, "Trinity's Book," is being released Tuesday.

When she first approached Random House about the project, she already had her own digital team in place to build out her cross-platform dream at a time when most publishers had no idea what transmedia meant.

‘'I was the only author doing transmedia," Bozarth said. "What that means to me is that the stories themselves are created with various media in mind. It's not an afterthought; it's built into the DNA of the story."

Bozarth says concentrating on so many aspects beyond book publishing is not easy and is very expensive. Shifts in the way people read and go online have already affected the series. Bozarth said "Fairy Godmother" is moving away from a website-based world to one that's more mobile-device friendly.

She's also working on TV and movie projects based on the series. For Bozarth, it's been about meeting her readers where they live, whether they're listening to music, hanging out on Facebook or learning about fashion in the real world.

"They're doing a lot of things besides reading your book," she said. "(Young readers) can very easily leap from the fantasy world to the real world."

Her books and digital projects have been including challenges to try to help young girls get more involved in their communities and to commit "Wisdom acts," a kind of do-gooder social entrepreneurship.

In all, Bozarth says, she'll have devoted 11 years to "Fairy Godmother Academy" when the series winds down. "It's not for the faint of heart," she said. "But we're going to see a lot more of those types of projects."

Dee Cook, an Austin interactive writer whose transmedia clients have included A&E TV, Discovery and Ford, says that traditional publishers have been slow to adapt to the possibilities of transmedia books and storytelling. "It's hard to talk them into something like that to begin with," she said.

Cook has daughters who are 11 and 13, and she's certain that readers that age are going to grow up expecting to have a more participatory relationship with the stories they read.

‘'Having a campaign where you're able to interact with characters in a book, that's going to be very appealing to this generation," Cook said. "They're being issued iPads in school and being taught how to create. They grew up being creators. I think that's definitely where we're headed."

Cook says the current generation of alternate-reality games and transmedia books is being compared to the silent film period.

"We're definitely at the beginning of an era," she said. "Who knows where we're going to be in even 10 years."