Blood in the margins – Freedom and The French Revolution, by Matt Stewart

One year ago today–Bastille Day–I released my debut novel The French Revolution on Twitter. It got some pretty good attention, and last fall I landed a traditional book deal with Soft Skull Press. Today, the novel launches as a hardcopy book.

It has been one hell of a year.

Everything about this experience has been larger than life. The novel is a San Francisco family saga, loosely structured on the radical events of the historical French Revolution. I strived to make my characters big and bodacious, colorful and creative, capturing the fiery personalities that make San Francisco such an entertaining place to live. I baked a plot that weaves classic San Francisco “industries” of gourmet food, anti-war politics, music, marketing, and–of course–drugs, lampooning extremes and puncturing caricatures. Zany events progress from a proverbial Bastille Day on down to Waterloo, and I did my best to pack in as many literary guillotines as possible.

There’s a theoretical underpinning to this madness–after all, the historical French Revolution is one of the greatest identity crises in history. Mirroring those bloody extremes, the family in my novel lurches from extreme (monarchy) to extreme (Reign of Terror) to extreme (Napoleon) before a definitive showdown (Waterloo) marks the family forever. It’s a classic self-discovery journey, packaged and punched through the Hegelian mill.

This is a brassy book, a balls-out book, a book that tickles and bites and occasionally spanks for no good reason. It was tremendous fun to write–and I hope it’s just as fun to read.

While writing a book structured on revolution, it was hard to resist the urge to flip over a few metaphorical cop cars along the way. Last year, I was tired of waiting for publishers to figure out if they wanted to take my book, so I seized control of my own publishing destiny with the Twitter experiment. This year, I’m launching a free iPhone app with Ricoh Innovations that helps the book function as “clickable paper”–you can zap any page in the book with your iPhone camera and launch relevant videos, recipes, articles, or even bonus chapters to get more involved in the story. Think of it as DVD bonus content available via old-fashioned, readily available books, and the world’s leading mobile device. (Please try it out and let me know what you think.)

I’m not out to revolutionize publishing. But it’s been liberating to work within the structure of the French Revolution, where disruption can be regenerative, where extremes are OK, where I kind of get a free pass to break a few rules.

Vive la révolution!

Matt Stewart

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