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Margaret Atwood on her Byliner serial and dystopia fun [video]

By Carolyn Kellogg

6:14 PM PDT, October 23, 2012

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It's fair to say that Margaret Atwood is ahead of the curve. In her classic dystopia "The Handmaid's Tale," she envisioned a world that politicized women's bodies and baby-making in strange, explicit ways. That book, published in 1985, has become eerily resonant this year during American political discussions dealing with women's issues.

As grim as that vision might be, Atwood is full of cheer, seeing the humor in the darkest situations. She tells us, in this video interview, that she's not alone; even Kafka laughed while writing his tales of desperation.

What Atwood is writing these days is a serial novel for Byliner. "Positron" is a Byliner Original, published as an e-book only, in installments. Atwood points to Charles Dickens as one of the greatest practicioners of serial novels -- most of the big books of his that we read today were published in small bits and pieces. And, as he wrote, he responded to reader feedback -- if  characters weren't well recieved, Atwood explains, he could push them off a bridge.

Parts 1 and 2 of "Positron" have been published, and Atwood is at work on Part 3. It's a dystopia with a pleasant surface, about a community centered on a prison -- in the video, she explains the setup. After Part 1 was published, immediate inquiries were made about television rights. "People are watching these new ways of publication," she says.

Wattpad is another new means of publication that Atwood is exploring; this week, she'll be adding a section to a zombie story. Well, technically, it's more than a story: It's a zombie running/workout interactive game. Based in Canada, where Atwood is from, Wattpad has 10 million monthly visitors and boasts 900,000 new stories added per month. It's built as a place for writers to share new work. Most writers draft, share, comment and re-write their own work; Atwood's piece will be a collaboration.

You may already be following Atwood on Twitter -- more than 350,000 people are. How has Atwood, who is in her 70s, kept on top of the latest interactive storytelling technologies? We try to ask. The answer, really, is that she's always a step ahead.

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