Oldrich Stibor on the next generation of interactive books and ‘The Black Chronicle’

by Matt Bone
The Black Chronicle

In this modern age of innovative technology, creative media and audio books, an idea comes along that revolutionizes the way we read books.

Take the Kindle, a piece of technology the same size as a shot book that allows you to not only read electronic versions of your favourite novels, but also that has the capability to let you to carry around hundreds of books in your own digital library, all nicely packaged up in the palm of your hand. Once considered to be the death knell of the humble book by literary purists and book-sellers, who believed the e-book reader would replace the paper book forever, the Kindle soon became a must have item offering the traveller or holiday maker.

This new device gave everyone a chance to take an entire library of reading material with them without using their luggage allowance or having to bring a rucksack along. Books could be bought for as little as a .99 cents and literary classics such as Pride and Prejudice were free to download straight to your device.

Stephen Fry summed it up best with his quote “One technology doesn’t replace another, it complements. Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.”

With the Kindle now loved by adults and children alike and having firmly cemented its place as the perfect reading companion, the next generation of interactive books have begun to enter the bookshelves in the market place.

With the next generation possibilities in mind, I sat down and spoke with Oldrich Stibor, a filmmaker turned writer, about his new horror book The Black Chronicle and how he has chosen to utilize the relatively new medium of ‘transmedia’–combining multiple mediums to tell a story–to tell his chilling story.

Matt Bone: Please tell me a little about how you got into writing?

Oldrich Stibor: “I’ve been writing since I was very little. When I was about five years old my parents moved into this really old spooky farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. Our closest neighbour was about a mile away. So after school and on weekends there were no other children for me to play with, so I had to develop my imagination to keep myself entertained and I did that through writing.”

MB: Having a background in filmmaking, how easy was it to make the transition to writing a book?

Stibor: “Writing as many screenplays as I have, has really ingrained the ‘three act’ structure in me. So because of that I think my books are more cinematic and have more narrative drive than they might have if not for my experience in screenwriting.”

MB: Your latest book, The Black Chronicle, is described as a ‘Transmedia’ piece, what is Transmedia?

Stibor: “Transmedia is a form of storytelling that uses multiple formats and mediums to tell a single narrative.”

MB: Why did you decide to use Transmedia in your latest book?

Stibor: “I just felt like the time was right for a project like this. I see all these different things coming together, opening up new possibilities for artists and to be completely honest I’m a little baffled that nobody has already done what I’m doing with The Black Chronicle.”

MB: Do you feel that Transmedia and immersive fiction are the future of suspense and horror storytelling?

Stibor: “I feel like it could be a growing niche in the genre and in publishing in general. But it’s going to take someone being really successful with a project like this to open the industry’s eyes to the creative and financial opportunities of it. I want to be that person.”

MB: How and why do you think immersive fiction will enhance reader’s experience of books?

Stibor: “Well, we’re all walking around with miniature computers in our pockets now, which have opened up a lot of possibilities for artists. We can now use things like time of day, location and accessibility to interact with our audience and in a sense blur the lines between our fictional projects and reality. In the case of The Black Chronicle this entails the killer in the book, Mister, stalking you and calling your phone to let you know that he’s always close by and to taunt you. It’s a very unnerving experience and really takes the fear we’re all hoping to find in a horror novel up a couple notches.”

MB: Red Right Hand Productions have developed an app to go along side the book, tell me about what it brings to the overall experience?

Stibor: “The app is the hub through which all the transmedia events are triggered. QR codes are embedded throughout the book. As you read it you scan the codes with the app that then releases the transmedia app components. The twist is that the reader doesn’t know what it’s going to be or when it’s going to come. It could be a bonus chapter rolled out immediately or maybe a video from the killer sent to your email many hours later. This way the story is an active living thing in your life even when the book is not open in front of you.”

MB: You talk about the immersive fiction being effective by ensuring the elements you include simply have to be as close to real-life experiences as possible. Are experiences based on someone you know, or events that you have witnessed in your lifetime?

Stibor: “I don’t think fiction has to be close to real life experience for it to be immersive. What needs to be close to reality is the emotional truths in the writing. Books like the Game of Thrones series for example are set in a very fantastical world but they resonate with people because we can relate with the fears, dreams and desires of the characters. With that said, The Black Chronicle was inspired by a real life tragedy my family experienced before I was born. It’s always sort of been in the back of my mind and maybe this book is my way of processing it.”

MB: When you kill off a character in your book, do you have their cause death already in mind or do you like to change it through the drafts?

Stibor: “The violence in this book is pretty intense. I wanted the act of reading those scenes to almost feel like I was being violent, in a manner of speaking, towards the readers themselves. But if you go too far with it, it can seem gratuitous or even comical, so I saved all those bits for last. It was a constant experiment of trying to go too far and the pulling back just enough. So the ways in which characters were killed changed a number of times throughout the drafts.”

MB: While you were writing your book, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?

Stibor: “No I don’t think so. I definitely empathized with all the characters, which I think is essential but there was no one character that was a version of myself.”

MB: Away from your own writing, who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Stibor: “That’s a tough one. There are a number of writers who have deeply affected me. Michael Swanwick’s The Iron Dragon’s Daughter was the first ‘adult’ book I read as a teen that opened my eyes to the truly unlimited possibilities of fiction. It’s just such a unique and startling story. Right now I’m really into Chuck Palahniuk. I love his books because even though they’re always so different from each other it’s like they’re the same somehow. It really looks and feels like he is a genre all unto himself and I’m trying to emulate that in my own way. ”

MB: With that in mind, what authors have inspired you to write a horror/suspense novel?

Stibor: “I think when it comes to horror, movies have inspired me more than books. I’m a 80’s baby and I grew up watching movies like The Exorcist and Nightmare On Elm Street over and over again on VHS. Suspense wise, I’ve really learned a lot from Denis Lehane’s books. He’s really a master of crime suspense and I try to use that feeling in my book as well.”

MB: Onto your own style, what does your writing process look like?

Stibor: “It looks like a whole lot of procrastinating but it’s not. I spend 75% of my day in front of the computer. I’m not writing for most of that time but the stories are always percolating.”

MB: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Stibor: “When I was younger I used to think writing was all about how you write, all about the language. Now I know it’s really about what you write. So the challenging part is the decisions you make with the wording. Writing is all about making the right decisions.”

MB: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Stibor: “Sometimes I wish I was into writing kids books. I could just write some sweet little story about puppies and kittens going on an adventure together, instead of writing about psychopaths and torture and dismemberment. But I know if I tried to be that kind of writer it wouldn’t work and the puppies and kittens would just end up being tortured and dismembered in the end and nobody wants to see that.”

MB: Are you already planning a sequel to The Black Chronicle?

Stibor: “I will be… if it’s successful. Time will tell.”

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