Questions & Answers

Questions & Answers

Below you can find some of the frequently asked questions and their answers – about the Shade of the Morning Sun project and its creator, Christopher Marcus.

Table of Contents

What is Shade of the Morning Sun?

Shade of the Morning Sun is a chronicle of a family over three generations from about 1968 and forward. It is told as an ongoing series of connected short stories with the same main characters:

Carrie Sawyer (b. 1979) – recovering addict, restless traveler, and searching artist

Jonathan Reese (b. 1975) – Iraq war veteran and state trooper, married to Carrie

Lin Christakis (1979-2000) – Carrie’s high school friend who wanted to be a famous author but found a tragic end

Emma Sawyer Reese (b. 2006) – Carrie and Jon’s smart, but anxiety-ridden daughter

Michael Sawyer Reese (b. 2008) – Emma’s younger brother, who is having to handle his autism as well as his sometimes dysfunctional family

Deborah Sawyer (b. 1952) – Carrie’s American mother and disillusioned flower child

Calum McDonnell (b. 1949) – Carrie’s Scottish father, ex-Highland ranger, Falklands veteran, and recovered alcoholic

And many others …

Why should I read Shade of the Morning Sun?

If you like to read contemporary upmarket fiction with strong characters, linked short stories, and reading online Shade of the Morning Sun may be something for you.

Where do I start reading?

Go to the Index for all stories and start with the first story you see, or just pick a story you find appealing.

There are, however, many other ways to read Shade of the Morning Sun, all of which I will get to below!

Is Shade of the Morning Sun an online novel or short story collection?

It is neither. Shade of the Morning Sun is a (constantly growing) collection of linked short stories, also known as a short story cycle or a novel in stories. This form is also sometimes called a composite novel or interrelated short stories.

Classic examples that you might be familiar with include James Joyce’s Dubliners, Sherman Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, and Ernest Hemingway’s In Our Time.

My own personal favorite is The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. which was published in 1990. It deals with Vietnam veterans and their experiences both before, during, and after the war. 

More recent examples are the Olive Kitteridge books or Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.

And of course, there are many, many more … 

How does a linked short story collection differ from any other short story collection?

To many readers, a linked short story collection, short story cycle, or novel in stories may appear as just another collection of short stories. Each short story is independent of the other – but only at a glance.

Because each short story does indeed have some – more or less subtle – connections to other stories in the collection, for example, a shared setting.

On the other hand – and this is important – each short story in such a collection also tells a full, complete story in itself.

Without this definite beginning, middle, and end of each short story, they become one and become chapters in a ‘real’ novel.

So each short story may be linked to some of the others, but it has to be able to stand alone as well.

Many linked short story collections are marketed as a ‘novel in stories’ – or even as a novel. So it is no wonder that the form can be a bit confusing to recognize! 

What are some of the links between these kinds of short stories?

I mentioned setting, which is the case in one of the classics – Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (although this book also has some recurring characters).

But the connection can also be through characters (as is largely the case in Shade of the Morning Sun) or other links such as:

  • objects (like the desk in Nicole Grauss’ Great House)

  • themes (e.g. parenthood, as in Rachel Cusk’s The Lucky Ones)

  • a certain year or period in time (Florian Illies’ 1913: The Year Before the Storm comes to mind, although I’m not entirely sure … )

There are probably other types of links I haven’t thought of. And often there is more than one type of link in a collection of linked short stories.

So don’t worry if it isn’t entirely clear to you either, when something is a linked short story collection and when something is a novel. But I hope you have at least the gist of the argument now! 🙂

Shouldn’t linked short stories be collected in the medium of a book – physical or electronic? 

They can be. But given the characteristics of the form, I dare say that linked short stories are very suited to take advantage of the options offered by digital media such as blogs or websites in general which allows you to read them in no particular order and still get a coherent experience. I will get back to this aspect in more detail below!

Why do you publish these stories on a website and not in a print book or ebook?

The vision behind Shade of the Morning Sun is to create a big web of interrelated stories that link to each other.

The vision is also that the collection is constantly growing – with past, present, and stories set in the future all being added continually. There is no definite end to the collection. In principle, if someone cared, they could continue it after I am no longer here!

When you take that vision and couple it with the possibilities of combining hypertext fiction and linked short stories as already mentioned, I really can’t think of any better medium than a dynamic website to present these stories.

If the linked stories progress chronologically, why do you publish them in non-chronological order?

Because it makes it possible for me to write whatever I like when I like it – in the same collection of linked stories!

If, for example, I feel like writing a story from Carrie’s teens, then I can do that at any time (in the real world), even though there are already many other stories about her young adulthood and middle-age.

(And there are also other stories about her parents – and about her children.)

I really like being able to choose any given point in my characters’ lives to write about, depending on my mood and inspiration, without the need to progress chronologically.

So there is no big plot or story arc?

Not as such. You have some events and associated themes that come up again and again, such as Carrie’s recovery from addiction and how she deals with it. Or Jonathan’s PTSD from the Iraq war.

But there isn’t an overall ‘plot’ or ‘arc’ for Carrie’s life story (which is where I start), much less for the entire 3 generation family-saga which is intended to stretch over a period of almost a century!

So what are some of the other ways I can read Shade of the Morning Sun?

Shadeofthemorningsun.com offers the filter options of the WordPress blog system to invite you to read the stories in many different sequences.

There is no single ‘correct’ reading of the entire novel in stories, and no requirement to ‘mix’ the stories. You can read them in a more traditional, linear way starting with the first story here – or you can read non-linearly, picking, choosing and mixing as you go along.

The main reading options are:

  • You can read stories with a single, recurring character only, at any point in his or her timeline.

  • You can filter to read from a certain POV – e.g. a certain character’s 1st person POV.

  • You can read the stories present to past or the other way around.

  • You can filter by musical inspiration

  • You can filter by mood

  • You can also jump between stories when a story features a hyperlink to story that is related, for example a background story that is not required but will enhance your experience of the present story.

I also have stories that overlap in time but can be read separately. For example, “The One I Tried To Destroy (III)” and “That Imaginary Desert” both place on the same day with the same protagonist, but you can also read them separately. I plan to do plenty more of those.

Furthermore, you can find ‘secret stories’ that are not visible in any of the main indexes (a bit more on that below).

Finally, you may want to dip into the recently started series of vignettes which can be enjoyed independently, like all the other stories, but otherwise are intended to enhance and supplement the main short stories.

There aren’t stories about all characters yet or stories enough to use all filter options equally, but the 50+ stories and vignettes should give you a good impression of where the project is heading, as well as an engaging reading experience!

Feel free to check out the video guide that explains alternative ways of reading visually!

Is Shade of the Morning Sun web fiction?

Yes, superficially speaking, but it falls closer to the definition of electronic literature specifically hypertext fiction. But e-lit is a much bigger beast that can include many other subforms, such as:

  • Animated poetry 
  • Computer art installations
  • Chatbots
  • Novels that take the form of emails, SMS messages, or blogs
  • Poems and stories that are generated by computers
  • Video novels

As mentioned, Shade of the Morning Sun is probably closest to the form of electronic literature called hypertext fiction. This is, roughly speaking, fiction with hyperlinks in it where you can choose what to read and what order to read it in.

Is electronic literature different from an ebook?

Yes, although they do share similarities. An ebook can be called electronic literature, but e-lit is much more.

The Electronic Literature Organization has the following definition of “electronic literature”:

Electronic literature is born-digital literary art that exploits, as its muse and medium, the transmedia possibilities of the digital. It is … [a] work with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer.

The keyword here is “born-digital”.

This means that e-literature could not exist in other forms than digital and still provide the exact same reading experience.

A lot of web fiction, e.g. fan fiction, is usually just text written online. It could also be made into a book if anyone cared, and you would still have the same reading experience. Or it could have started as a product made for the printed page and then have been digitized, like many ebook versions of classic novels. This is not the case with electronic literature.

Electronic literature is always born-digital, and although you may be able to convert parts of it to print media, you cannot 1:1 transfer the story and maintain the same reading experience.

None of the ways of filtering and mixing stories on this site are available in a print book.

Nor are all of them available in ebooks at the time of writing (2021), although some ebooks do mimic certain superficial features of a website, e.g. hyperlinks inside the story that enable you to jump to other, related stories, if you desire.

And as I will reveal below, there is no finished story – it is constantly changing, growing, and being revised. That fact is probably the most powerful case for Shade of the Morning Sun being electronic literature at its heart.

Is Shade of the Morning Sun also interactive fiction?

Interactive fiction is to my knowledge another name for hypertext fiction, so the short answer is yes. However, Shade of the Morning Sun is interactive fiction on the lower end of the complexity scale.

Traditional interactive fiction was actually invented for print first – as in the old Dungeons & Dragons ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. Nowadays we have hypertext fiction as in Twine stories, and a whole slew of (mostly) older online stories in between with different levels of complexity and choice.

What I believe you can say is in common for these types of stories is that they are usually quite similar to the kind of storytelling you find in computer or roleplaying games, where you shape the narrative and effectively take over the role of the protagonist. You might complete many different narratives or, in some of the most complex works, struggle to complete a meaningful narrative at all.

On the other hand, the options to interact with a Shade of the Morning Sun story allow you to experience the same narrative but in many different ways, such as choosing to read all related stories inspired by the same musician, or focusing on a more immersive reading experience with a single character by reading her 1st person POV stories only.

For all intents and purposes, the reading experience, as well as the story itself, will be somewhat different depending on what you choose to focus on. But there will be a story that progresses linearly and where you can’t get ‘lost’ as in the more advanced hypertext fiction works.

In other words, you may choose to read the story non-linearly, but it is still there. You don’t need to create it first!

The mission behind Shade of the Morning Sun is to create a modern hypertext fiction work that will appeal to a broad audience both in terms of the stories themselves and their accessibility. It is my hope that the level of interactivity I have chosen of Shade of the Morning Sun supports that.

What does it mean that stories are ‘updated’?

That from time to time I edit stories and clarify language or add new paragraphs or make similar changes. The date denotes the most recent version.

Do you update stories because Shade of the Morning Sun is digital and not physical literature?

I do it because it is too tempting, to be honest.

As already hinted above this constantly changing state of Shade of the Morning Sun is perhaps the ultimate argument for its status as digital-first literature – for anyone who cares about such things. You could never do that in a print book, and not even in most ebooks because it wouldn’t be practical to launch a new version several times a month – or even several times per week! Digital-first literature can be fluid and never quite finished. Its content can be changed at any time if the author decides to do it. It may even be changed due to input by readers, in the comments fields, for example.

But the truth is I didn’t decide to make Shade of the Morning Sun a ‘fluid’ text because I wanted to make a point about what digital literature can do that physical literature cannot. As I said, it was simply something that seemed obvious to take advantage of, given my inclination to polish my stories over time, as most authors and other artists do anyway. (James Joyce, anyone?)

But isn’t it ‘cheating’ readers if stories can change over time?

For all intents and purposes, the stories are finished. I never change very much – we are mostly talking copy-edit level of changes.

I am toying with the idea of letting my stories in the future change in a major way if future events veer too far from my expectations and predictions, but the stories taking place from the time of writing and into the past will never be changed very much. Characters who died won’t suddenly come to life, for example. I may insert a paragraph here and there elaborating on something a character experienced in a new story I have written from the same time period. That’s about it.

But yes, the objection is valid in one sense.

I do realize that never having a ‘definitive’ version of any of my stories, like a final volume in a print book collection, could lead to negative reactions among readers.

Some may feel that this choice showcases what an amateur I am. I can live with that.

Some might get angry that their favorite version ‘disappeared’ at some point. That’s a bit harder to live with, and I have some plans to ameliorate that since I would like to make a membership site in the future where you can get access to previous versions and then choose your own canon.

And there are probably other objections, I haven’t thought about, but will have to address down the line.

But at the end of the day, I don’t feel I am cheating anyone by doing this. First, it is a natural way of writing on the big social publishing platforms like Wattpad which I also use. Second, I share these stories for free, so if people don’t like them, or the way I am sharing them, I haven’t pocketed anyone’s money and left them in the lurch, so to speak.

I truly believe there are worse ways of ‘cheating’ – but I will let my readers be the judge of that.

Why did you choose to write electronic literature and linked short stories?

I started writing a traditional novel 20 years ago with some of the characters but was not able to finish it, being occupied with education, work, and a period of serious illness. It soured on me around 2009 but I wanted to do something with the story ideas and characters, so I started writing short stories. I was impatient and just put them out on the internet and it sort of took on a life of its own since.

There was definitely also a drive in me to actually do something different with my creativity than go the traditional route, or even self-publish on the then newly established market for that (Amazon). I remember thinking about publishing my stories on MySpace (ah, those were the days … ) and collaborating with artists who had written music that inspired me and then combine the presentation of both story and music, but nothing came off it at the time.

I did invest time in converting some of my stories for ebooks, but I didn’t have the resources to market them properly. I also felt conflicted between publishing some of the best stories in ebooks, charging money for them, and at the same time wanting them to be on the site for free, as part of a greater whole. So although I did ebooks a few times over the years, I have always returned to investing most of my time on the website.

Why is your project called ‘Shade of the Morning Sun’?

I’ve taken the project title from part of the lyrics of New Order’s 1987-song “True Faith”:

I used to think that the day would never come
I’ve seen the light in the shade of the morning sun

The song is about drug use, but I also see it as a song about wanting to escape from life and searching for ‘the light’ – i.e. happiness, even if that happiness is not always what it seems. The duality of this interpretation, and the title, I think are very fitting for the overall mood of the Shade of the Morning Sun stories.

How will I know when new stories come out?

Sign up for my newsletter, and you will be the first to know!

How often do you write new stories?

It varies a lot. I have written on average 5 stories per year since 2011, but many of them are in the drawer still. The average word count is probably around 3000 words per story, although a few are between 8000 and 13000 words (!). In 2021 I plan to write more flash fiction (below 1000 words) to get more stories out.

I have found a story that is not in the main index!

As mentioned above, I am going to put some ‘secret’ stories in from time to time, about characters or events that are peripheral to the main timeline, but still have some connection, even if it is merely symbolic or thematical. They are small experiments if you will, and I think it is fun that they are there for readers to discover. There are some fairly straightforward clues around the website as to their location if you take a bit of time to browse around. So if you are interested feel free to go hunting!

Why are there different people posing for the same character photos?

Originally because I could only afford to use royalty-free photos from Unsplash and Pixabay and similar sites, but as time has gone by I feel that it is rather fitting. Even though the same cast populates the stories, I like to think that many of their experiences are universal.

Can I follow you on social media?

Not yet, because I simply don’t have the time to maintain social media accounts for this project as well as the ones I have for my IT business. However, they will come up at some point and then you will be the first to know if you visit this site regularly – or sign up for my newsletter.

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Last updated 17 Sep 2021