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

GENERAL QUESTIONS

What is Shade of the Morning Sun?

Shade of the Morning Sun is the chronicle of a Scottish-American family over three generations from 1968-2068. It is told as an ongoing series of connected short stories with the same main characters:

Carrie Sawyer (b. 1979) – searching artist, recovering addict, and mom-in-training

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

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 …

Note: I’m starting with the middle generation (Carrie and Jon), so currently (2021) the bulk of stories are about them, but in the years to come there will gradually be more stories about their parents’ generation and their children’s.

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.

Note: Since the stories span the period 1968-2068, at some point, the contemporary genre will merge into what we now may call the science fiction genre. That happens if, say, I write a story in 2022 set in 2042 – or any other future date relative to your own present. However, the SF element will be very light as I will focus mostly on the characters and their development.

Where do I start reading?

Go to the Index for all stories and start from wherever you like.

There are, however, some specific ways to read Shade of the Morning Sun, if you like, and I will get to all of those below!

ABOUT LINKED SHORT STORIES

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

It is neither. Shade of the Morning Sun is a (constantly growing) collection of linked short stories, also known as a novel in stories or short story cycle. 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 … 

What is a linked short story?

In a nutshell, each short story in such a collection has a – more or less subtle – connection to other stories in the collection.

For example, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is about of group of Vietnam war veterans, but the stories about their experiences are stand-alone and not chapters in a novel.

So the stories in a linked collection aren’t completely independent, although they can certainly be read as such. However, they are not chapters in a novel, either!

Each short story in a linked collection still 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.

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!

By the way: Shade of the Morning Sun also contains a number of vignettes. But the main body of work consists of actual short stories. Although mixing short stories and vignettes isn’t to my knowledge seen very often, there are some examples, such as Ernest Hemingway’s in our time.

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

The most common is probably setting, as is the case in one of the classics – Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.

Characters are another common link (as is largely the case in Shade of the Morning Sun)

You also have links like:

  • 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 it’s more of a collection of linked vignettes … )

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, like in the aforementioned Winesburg: Ohio and others.

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, like  Carrie’s recovery from addiction and how she deals with it. Or Jonathan’s PTSD from the Iraq war. But that’s about it.

As the collection grows, obviously there will be sequences that may eventually grow into storylines that resemble novels, such as Carrie’s sojourn to South America 2000-1, but it is by no means a given.

ABOUT PUBLISHING 

Why do you publish these stories on a website?

Because I really can’t think of any better medium than a dynamic website to share my vision of what Shade of the Morning Sun should be like.

Shade of the Morning Sun is meant to be 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 alive!

Why do you publish the stories 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!

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.

HOW TO READ

How can I read Shade of the Morning Sun?

There is no single ‘correct’ reading. Do feel free to read some or all stories in a more traditional, linear way starting with the first story here – or create your own reading experience from some of the built-in filter options.

The main reading experiences are:

  • Read stories with a single, recurring character only, at any point in his or her timeline. If you use this filter you will get both 1st and 3rd person POV-stories.

  • Create story sequences from a certain POV only (e.g. Jon’s 1st person POV – but not stories with his 3rd person POV).

  • Jump between stories when a story features a hyperlink to a story that is related.
  • Let the system choose random stories for you.

I also have stories that overlap in time and can be read both separately or as part of the same whole. For example, “The One I Tried To Destroy” is overlapped by “That Imaginary Desert”. Both take place on the same day with the same protagonist, but you can also read them separately. I plan to do plenty more of those.

Please note, there aren’t stories about all characters yet or stories enough to use all filter options equally, but the 70+ stories, chapters, and vignettes should give you a good impression of where the project is heading, as well as an engaging reading experience!

Do the names under each title refer to the main characters of the story?

Usually. I have also included chapters and stories where characters play a prominent role, for example in “One Step Closer”

This story is mostly about Carrie, but there is a very pivotal scene in it that says a lot about Carrie and Emma’s mother-daughter relationship, so Emma is listed as well. Jon is also in the story, but he plays a peripheral role, so I have not listed him as a ‘main character’ for this story.

Why aren’t there many stories from 1968-1990, and 2022-2068?

Because I haven’t had time to write them – yet. As mentioned earlier, I have chosen to start with the ‘middle generation’ of Carrie and Jon.

ABOUT ELECTRONIC LITERATURE

Is Shade of the Morning Sun web fiction?

It is also webfiction, and it is also more than that. 

A more precise definition would be electronic literature (e-lit)

E-lit can include many 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
  • Hypertext fiction

Shade of the Morning Sun is closest to the last e-lit subform on the list: hypertext fiction. 

In hypertext fiction you navigate through a story using hyperlinks, choosing many different ways of reading as you go along, while still (hopefully) getting a coherent reading experience. 

Is electronic literature really a thing?

Oh, yes, but it’s very niche, so no wonder if you have never heard of it.

Is e-literature like an ebook?

No, e-lit is not an ebook.  

An ebook, like webfiction, is really more like the digitization of print literature.

E-literature, however, is ‘born digital’. 

This means that e-literature could not exist in other forms than digital.

You may be able to convert parts of e-lit to print media (or an ebook), but you cannot 1:1 transfer the story and maintain the same reading experience.

For example, 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 in the body text to various footnotes.

Is e-literature the same as interactive fiction?

Interactive fiction, as I understand it, is indeed another name for hypertext fiction. However, Shade of the Morning Sun is a simpler form of interactive fiction.

Some of the most complex interactive fiction (or hypertext fiction) allows you to complete many different narratives and require some effort to read because there are more choices and more complexity. (Take a look at one of the web’s first interactive novels, Sunshine 69, for an example.)

But whether you have an old ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ paper book or an e-lit story like Sunshine 69, you ultimately get a lot of options for shaping the narrative, maybe ending up with a completely different story than the next reader.

In contrast, the options to interact with a Shade of the Morning Sun story allow you to experience the same narrative (about the three generations of Carrie’s family) but in many different ways.

For example, you can create a reading sequence from all stories inspired by the same musician, or 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.

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.

Why have you chosen this level of interactivity?

All the analyses I have read about e-lit point to the fact that it is often relegated to a niche because it is – relatively – difficult to read.

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.

So I have opted to do Shadeofthemorningsun.com as a website where most navigation options will seem familiar, e.g. using various tags to filter and mix the stories, e.g. according to mood or character POV. 

In my view, any additional layers of complexity to the reading experience would hurt the appeal to a potential audience too much.

I won’t rule out future modifications and additions, though. For example, I have toyed with the idea of incorporating chatbots that would allow you to talk to the main characters and complete your own ‘we meet at a cafe’-like story with them, but chatbots are time-consuming to create so it is not something that you can expect to see in the near future.

But I’m still learning how to do this, so expect adjustments of the ‘how’ down the line!

Is the interactive aspect of Shade the reason it is e-literature?

On the surface, I would say yes. Interactivity is the hallmark of e-lit. And although interactive fiction has been known to exist in physical books, you could never achieve the same level of interactivity as online. 

However, aside from the filtering options for reading that I already mentioned, I feel there are two other aspects of Shade of the Morning Sun that identifies it as e-lit:

1) The fluid nature of the stories: 

Shade of the Morning Sun is constantly changing, growing, and being revised, for example, to match stories taking place in the future closer with actual events when they happen.

Case in point: I have plans to write as many stories about Emma and Michael as their parents and grandparents. These stories will take place in the years 2010-2068 approximately, and will try to ‘guess’ future development, using future-timeline.net and other sources as inspiration.

As the future becomes the present, some of these stories will be revised according to what actually transpires, e.g. with regard to climate change.  (The original stories will be archived.)

2) The potential for cooperation in the creative process

With Shade of the Morning Sun I have made it possible for readers to share personal stories they may want me to use as inspiration for a fictional story, and for other writers to submit their own vignettes and stories.

You can even become a member of the site and collaborate in editing and adding to old stories and writing new stories.

Of course, it has always been possible to submit stories for publication in books or magazines, but the potential for constant addition, change, revision, and the level of potential collaboration seems like it could never be done in print or ebooks –  or in magazines, for that matter.

Why is it important that Shade is e-lit?

It’s not particularly important, all things considered. As I will clarify below, it has little marketing value, for example. 

I worked on the early versions of this site for many years without knowing about either linked short stories or e-lit. And again, there are good reasons for that. Neither beast is seen in the wild very often, and people often don’t even know it’s there, so they don’t actively look for it.

However, it’s nice to feel you belong somewhere, even if the place you belong is one of those obscure shelves in the back of the bookshop that even the owner has forgotten about.

ON UPDATES

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.

Why do you update the stories?

Because it is too tempting 🙂

It is simply something that seems obvious to take advantage of, given my inclination to polish my stories over time – as most authors and other artists often do. 

As mentioned above, I am also looking for members of the site to help me in editing and adding to the stories, so expect more of these and other updates in the future!

AUDIENCE AND MARKETING

Who reads Shade of the Morning Sun?

So far not that many. I get anywhere from 1-100 visitors per day, as far as I have been able to discern with various tools (Google Analytics, serverside analytics, Jetpack Plugin, and others). Most of these visits, however, are clearly bots and not humans.

I have posted seven Shade of the Morning Sun stories to the social publishing site, Wattpad, though, getting about 700 “reads” as they are called – in total – from February 2021-October 2021. 

Perhaps more importantly, I have also gained some recognition in various competitions by the Wattpad Ambassadors, such as being a finalist in the Literary Fiction Category with “Shadows in the Shape of Men” for Wattpad’s Fall Awards 2021. The more of these competition reading lists I can feature my stories in, the bigger the chance for them to get exposure to a larger audience on Wattpad.

I also have some stories out as ebooks, for example, “His Last and First Breath”, but have only gotten less than 10 downloads in the period 2021-22. (They are also in dire need of updating since the live ebooks are older versions of stories that have since been revised.)

Why don’t you have more readers?

Firstly, linked short stories are a niche form in a genre (contemporary / upmarket / literary fiction) that is not particularly popular compared to genre fiction, like romance or crime.

Second, I don’t have the time or money yet to do any serious marketing, on any platforms (Wattpad, ebook sellers, etc.)

Lastly, electronic literature and hypertext fiction are, as far as I can discern, an even smaller niche than linked short stories. So far it seems to me most readers of such works are to be found in academic circles, where they read e-lit and also study it at the same time (and sometimes also produce it!). The casual readers of e-lit are few and far between, is my clear impression.  

Of course, people who pass by may simply not like my writing, or characters, or some combination thereof. That is obviously also a reason. However, I don’t think the challenges in genre, form, and lack of promotional resources can be underestimated. To put it mildly.

What are you doing to get more readers?

Digging in for the long term.

I’m staying on Wattpad and will also likely publish on other social publishing platforms in the years to come if they are a good fit for the type of stories I do.

On Wattpad, I will focus on new adult readers ages 18-25 and see if I can get them interested in Carrie’s younger years – or in collaborating with me in writing stories about Carrie’s children (Emma and Michael) who are in the same age demographic.

I hope that those readers will stay with me as they grow older and maybe become interested in reading (more) about Carrie’s generation or her parents’ generation, as well.

(You can read more about my reflections on joining Wattpad here.)

I will also collect my stories in e- and p-books for self-publication on the existing markets (i.e. Amazon, iBooks, etc.) when I feel the time is right, but without a marketing budget, they will most likely just be a drop in the ocean.

There are other strategies, but these are the most promising in my assessment, even if it is still very, very hard to gain traction.

Why don’t you have a marketing budget?

My life story is a bit too long to tell here, but suffice to say many periods of illness, stress, and ‘wrong’ choices in the career market have left me with debt and no savings. Also, I spend most of my time taking care of my son, who has special needs.

If you wish to support me, so I can write and market more, feel free to make a donation

Why do you focus on younger readers?

Because they are the ones who seem to be most open to reading fiction online. I’ve approached both readers and writers from ages 30-40 and up and presented Shade to them, and I mostly get a polite ‘that’s nice’ in response, and then never hear from them again.

Also, I have noted that many people of my own age group (45+) may own an ebook-reader but are generally more fond of print books. Resistance to trying a medium like the Shade website for fiction reading appears to be quite high, and so I feel the main effort to promote Shade to new readers should be for a younger demographic, although that certainly has its caveats as well.

On Wattpad, for example, 95% of everything that is published is genre fiction, such as romance or fantasy. But there is still a niche for contemporary fiction that appears to be more open than the traditional markets, which are tailored to ebooks and print books.

ORIGIN OF THE PROJECT

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.

FOLLOWING SHADE

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.

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.

MISCELLANEOUS

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.

There are not a lot of stories about [my favorite character]

As noted above and in the archives, not all of the characters have an equal amount of stories – yet.

I’m starting with the middle generation of Carrie and Jon (circa 1990-present day on the timeline) and then over time, I will add more stories and vignettes for Carrie’s parents, Calum and Deborah (circa the 1960s-1980s) and for Carrie and Jon’s children, Emma and Michael (2010s and onward).

If you want to be updated when there is a new story, feel free to subscribe.

Some stories take place over several days but don’t have several chapters

I would like to be consistent here, but the truth is I only have so much time. So, yes, you will find some stories that take place over several days, but I have listed the whole story in a single post, with a single starting date and time. I hope that in the future I will have enough contributions to the site that will allow me to work in these edits, so I can present the stories in a consistent way.

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Last updated 27 Oct 2021