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Interactive fiction's latest twist - characters from novels blog

On the Internet, as the old joke goes, no one knows you're a dog. In fact, no one has to know who you are at all.

On the Internet, as the old joke goes, no one knows you're a dog.

In fact, no one has to know who you are at all.

The anonymity afforded by digital media has led to some interesting developments in fiction - an arena where making pretend has always been the order of the day.

Scott Stein, associate director of the certificate program in writing and publishing in the Department of English and Philosophy at Drexel University, has just published his second print novel, a satire called Mean Martin Manning. Manning is a recluse who hasn't left his apartment in 30 years and has become the pet project of a persistent social worker named Alice Pitney. Before the book was published some of its characters were already online, blogging, posting comments, and promoting their own projects.

Stein maintains four Web sites relating to his novel: Martin's personal page (www.meanmartin, Alice Pitney's blog (, the "official" Web site of a TV show from the book (, and the Martin Manning for President site (, the only one not run by characters from the book. (His platform? "Everyone leaves everyone else alone.")

Different levels of reader interaction are possible on the sites, and the characters who blog are able, of course, to comment on other blogs. Stealth blogging, Stein calls it. Pitney has even left comments on the political print magazine Reason's blog Hit and Run.

"She waits until the thread topic is appropriate, and then writes something provocative," Stein says of his uptight alter ego. "At first, a couple of the regular commenters took her seriously, argued with Pitney or insulted her, and others quickly figured out that she wasn't real. Some people have had some fun with her, playing along."

Stein says it's not his intention to fool people; each site features a picture of the book's cover somewhere. Rather, he says, the nature of his novel allows him to signal to readers that these online personas are fictional.

"Since the novel is a satire, and an outrageous one, Pitney isn't exactly a subtle character. What seems tongue-in-cheek is pretty true to how she is in the novel - so over-the-top that out of context you might think she was performing a parody. If some people ask themselves at first, She can't be serious? and then they realize that she is satirical, not real, that's fine."

In the U.K., novelist and journalist Alison Norrington is preparing the launch of her fourth novel, Staying Single, as a blog written by the novel's protagonist, unlucky-in-love Sophie Regan. Sophie has vowed to remain single for a year and she will begin blogging about it on April 25, with chapters to be delivered by e-mail, text message and podcast. Reader interaction is encouraged, and Norrington plans to include short documentaries contributed by readers on the Staying Single blog (http://sophie-stayingsingle.

But Sophie will also be a character in Second Life (, a highly developed three-dimensional online game where players create their own characters. Characters in Second Life can have careers, marriages, and a whole world filled with stores, art galleries and the like for them to visit.

Reuters even has a bureau there, with journalists interviewing people in character and reporting news such as real-world businesses that also operate within the game (

"I would like for readers to really engage with Sophie as a real character," Norrington says. "Although she is fictionalized she is very much a real person in terms of her thought processes and emotions. As a published novelist I am very aware that writing a good book means getting the reader to unpack her bags and settle in for the duration."