Yesterday I did something momentous: I read an ebook. I don't have a dedicated e-reader, of course, so I read it as a pdf in Adobe Digital Editions...and let me say, without meaning any slight to either program or book, the actual reading process gave me a headache. I'm delicate.
I chose to make this literary leap against my late-if-at-all-adopter tendencies for a wholly unique book (which is also available in paperback, no worries): the brainchild of Northwest author collective Seattle7Writers, Hotel Angeline was written live last October in Seattle, by 36 authors taking two-hour shifts. The event raised money for literacy groups (50% of ebook & print proceeds will be similarly donated) and brought together local bookstores, restaurants, and schools. It's (argh, the pun CANNOT BE STOPPED) a novel idea: direct access to the writing process for the audience, collaboration between a diverse cadre of area writers (poets and YA novelists, romance and mystery scribes, even historians and a cartoonist), all attempting to strike a balance between individual voice and cohesive narrative.
So how'd they do? I shan't shock, I don't think, by saying that the brilliance of Hotel Angeline lies more in the concept than the execution; and yet that's not as left-handed a compliment as it might seem, since the half-mad method is brilliant indeed, and the finished artifact is, in fact, a solid piece of writing. The essential narrative arc, sketched in advance by an editorial committee consisting of Garth Stein, Jennie Shortridge, Elizabeth George, Robert Dugoni, and Maria Semple, is the story of fourteen-year-old Alexis Austin, thrown into situations far beyond her years by the death of her mother, as she struggles to keep the death (and the body) hidden, manage the titular residence and its population of colorful misfits on her own, and deal with the murky revolutionary past and present of father figure LJ and her own sexuality.
One of the best things about Hotel is the sense of place--and for once the place isn't New York City. Seattle landmarks, neighborhoods, and (naturally) weather are all an organic part of the tale, as is the tension between its counterculture history and the usual de-eccentricizing force of moneyed "progress." Other highlights, for me: I love Stephanie Kallos's chapter, told from the point of view of a pet crow who's flown in and out of the story; Matthew Amster-Burton's descriptions of food; David Lasky's and Greg Stump's graphic chapter making visible the inky puddles of a Northwest evening.
I wasn't as much a fan of the hotel's inhabitants, who seemed a bit by-the-numbers quirky, and I am really pretty sure that no one has ever died from breaking a mercury thermometer, which is what does in Alexis's mom. Too, I think the hardest thing to nail consistently is dialogue, and the character's fluidity of speech varies widely--I thought the YA authors (like Deb Caletti and Suzanne Selfors) and the mystery writers (Elizabeth George, Robert Dugoni) did it best. And there's a central character for whom I lost all sympathy, which made later references less than compelling.
Evaluating the project by its own sui generis standards, though, Hotel Angeline succeeds: good cause, fun times, new way to think about writing and authorship. A lot of great author interviews here. Have a look!