Every so often, someone comes along and tries to change the way we do things.

This is particularly relevant in the world of the written word.  When some genius decided to go from cave paintings to papyrus scrolls* there was uproar in the publishing industry.  Nobody had done it before and so nobody could envision doing it differently, but now we wouldn’t read our ancient Egyptian texts any other way.  Similarly at the time of William Shakespeare, nobody gave a toss about fixed spelling (Bill spelt his name in several different ways) but these days we’re always getting ourselves worked up about kids using text speak instead of proper English.

Obviously we’ve had a lot of chat about the digital revolution on this blog, what with the Great Kindle Challenge and asking almost all interviewees for their thoughts on eBooks and such.  But what is the next evolutionary step in reading experience?  I’m glad you asked.

The Very Us Artists suggest a multi-sensory extravaganza, with text and artwork written to music to draw you into the narrative.  They have just published Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero, a book of interconnected Science Fiction stories and artwork based around a series of album tracks.  Musicians, artists and writers from across the world have contributed to the project.  I spoke to Editor Jeff LaSala to find out more.

How did Foreshadows come about?

It spawned first from The Very Us Artists (VUA)—a revolving door of musicians organized by my brother, John LaSala—and was originally intended as a soundtrack to accompany a cyberpunk Role Playing Game in development at the time. That partnership dissolved when the RPG stalled out, yet the music had been made and was left standing at the altar. It turned out this was a good thing, because then I got involved. Now, when my brother and I start brainstorming creatively, things generally spiral out of control and get more complicated than they need to be. But sometimes it gets complicated just enough. And this gave rise to Foreshadows.

It went down fairly simply. I knew a bunch of writers from my work as a freelance writer—both as a fantasy novelist and as an author of RPG books. My brother already had VUA, and most of the music had already been created. So we teamed up with two friends/colleagues: Bilian, a musician and music producer who’d already been instrumentally involved, and Renaissance man Joshua Wentz, a graphic designer with his own publishing imprint, who was also one of the musicians on the album.

How did everyone else get involved?  Were they all approached or did people volunteer?

Nahh, they were conscripted at laser-point.

Which is to say, I made a list of potential contributing writers. Some were newer writers with fewer publishing credits to their name but whose work I knew and liked, others were veteran authors whose work and reputations preceded them.  Because this was very much an indie project, I also picked people I thought would be patient, easy to work with, and who I hoped would be into the spirit of this unusual chimera of music and stories. Then I reached out to them; most were interested, though some had schedule conflicts and had to decline. It all worked out in the end and we settled on 19 authors, including myself and my brother.

How long did it take from start to finish?

Ooh, that’s tough one. I sent my first round of “hey, would you be interested in this?” e-mails out in September of 2009, making the whole project more than two years old, but see, that’s only when I got involved. Remember, the music came before I did. Plus, there were a lot of false starts, budget delays, and various logistical snarls. Sort of like how some screenplays can get rewritten and revised and bounced around Hollywood for years before making it to the silver screen, Foreshadows took some time—almost four years, all told— to really come together from its various points of origin.

What has the response been so far?

We’ve only just begun, but support and reception has been encouraging! We used Kickstarter to help fund the basic production of the physical book—which, if you see it, is a thing of high quality indeed. We had 83 backers and we reached our goal of $13.7k. So, we were enormously fortunate that so many people saw that this was an original endeavour worth seeing through. Science fiction is niche to begin with, and when you stray towards a subgenre like cyberpunk and then make it multimedia to boot, you’re really treading on unproven ground!

Why sci-fi as opposed to fantasy (which can be equally sweeping and epic) or steampunk (tres zeitgeisty) or literary fiction (which usually goes on a bit and could do with someone coming along and shaking it up!)?

Funny you say “zeitgeist” because that applies nicely to Foreshadows. (Specifically, the 4-part story that I co-wrote with my brother is about just that.)

I’m personally a fantasy fan first. I grew up on Tolkien, He-Man, and Dungeons & Dragons, and my first novel was published by Wizards of the Coast, but as time went by I found I wanted to stretch out and dabble in other genres. And I’d say at least three-quarters of our Foreshadows authors are published fantasy writers first. But…the music was generally cyberpunk at conception, so that was our starting point. Plus, we’re all still fans of sci-fi! We’ve got fans of The Fifth Element, William Gibson, Robert Heinlein, and Philip K. Dick in our midst.

The borders between genres get pretty thin when you let story lead the way and just follow music as your source of inspiration. We’ve tossed around the term “cyberpunk” with this anthology rather loosely, but our authors’ roots definitely show. Some of the science gets pretty fantastic. And in the end, the style of Foreshadows is essentially the sum of its creators’ interests.

Of course, I’d have been just as easily inspired into involvement if it was steampunk….

Would you do a project like this again?

If the planets are properly aligned, we just might.

But there’s really no simple answer to that question. Because a project like this is anything but simple. Of course, most of us would love to turn out another product like The Ghosts of Zero. We’re really damn proud of it. It does seem somewhat inevitable that there’ll be another Foreshadows publication of some sort in the future. And in the meantime, there’s Webshadows, the online (and free!) expansion of the Foreshadows universe: additional tales, music, and other bits of multimedia storytelling that’s only just begun. The first Webshadow is already live. “Into Pandora’s Box” is a short story by Jaleigh Johnson, a piece of music by Dylan Leeds, and illustration by Ruth Lampi. You can expect to see more going up.

But yeah, we probably would.

Is there anything you would do differently?

Most definitely! There was a massive learning curve bringing Foreshadows into being. For all our cumulative experiences, there’s just no precedence to follow in putting a thing like this together. It wasn’t even supposed to be what it turned out to be from the start! Next time around, we’d certainly have a clear endgame in mind and a reasonably well-trodden path to go down—at least as a guide from which we may stray and be reasonably well-informed. Creating Foreshadows has been a wild and bumpy adventure, with pretty much nonstop wildness and bumpiness. Next time we’d hope for somewhat smoother sailing, if you’ll forgive the mixing metaphors.

What is your ultimate goal with this project?  I mean, beyond finishing and publishing it—critical acclaim? World domination? 

Wait…critical acclaim? World domination? Those are options? Hmm. Maybe we’ve been setting our sights too low. Since we’ve just barely gotten over the finishing-and-publishing-it hump, our minds are still trying to adjust to a world where people can actually get their hands on a copy of this thing. Until just recently, Foreshadows has just been a vast mesh of cybernetic data spinning back and forth between the brains and personal computers of our team. And holy crap, now it’s out there in the world! What have we done?!?!

So yeah, critical acclaim, massive sales, and…sure, why not…world domination are all welcome additions to our lives.

But in the meantime, if we bring something new and original and thought-provoking into the lives of our readers/listeners, then we’ll be satisfied. And we’d sure like to hear about it!

To find out more about Foreshadows, or buy the book, visit the website.  You can also find Jeff on Twitter @Jeff_LaSala.

*may not have been the exact progression