March 16-22, 2006
Cover Story : ArticleJersey Guy
With words, pictures and a podcast, the serial Web novel True Jersey takes fiction to new dimensions.
: Michael T. Regan
From the third-floor deck of his one-bedroom apartment, Bader can see I-95, the Delaware River and New Jersey. "From the bottom of the street where I grew up in Wilmington, Del., I could see I-95, the Delaware River and New Jersey," says Bader. "Sometimes I wonder, have I really made it that far?"
That sort of outlook is what makes Bader's new bookafter the unpublished, semi-autobiographical Pilot and the Pandaso winsomely weird, focusing on writer/journalist/artist characters like Emily Sellers, Mike Ennis, Kyle McEnow, their demise, their cats and their cats' demise.
"Pilot borrowed heavily from my life, was in the first-person perspective, took place where I had been," says Bader. "So I had this idea that the second book would be this 'challenge' you know, to show myself that I was, ahem, like a real writer or something." Rather than just stop at third-person perspective, Bader has created a fictional old-school Anytownbased on Lambertville and New Hopewith the main character a twentysomething woman named Emily Sellers.
Along with Bader's change of perspective came a new business model based on something he learned after crashing a 1999 reception for the late poet Robert Creeley in Camden. After Bader handed Creeley a copy of a zine he had written, the elder poet sent him a letter. "You're clearly good at making some noise. Make enough and someone's bound to listen," he wrote. So rather than just Xerox his 700-page Pilot or write sniveling letters to publishers, he'd do it himself. "The current state of publishing appears to be a parlor game for the wealthy and the educated," says Bader. "You don't get much of 'Amy Girl is from Yeadon, Pa., and works at a record store.'"
Knowing full well that no amount of pissing and moaning would do, Bader decided to self-publish. His pal Zahradnik ("either a true fan, my best friend, or totally insane") offered to typeset and edit it for free. Still, with no money or credit to his name, he settled on turning True Jersey into an episodic work. Initially it was meant to be a comic book with 22 black-and-white pulp pages and a cardstock cover with cartoons and maps designed during a drunken night at RUBA. The online idea came from Joey Sweeney, who ran excerpts on Philebrity.com, now in color. "Money means nothing. Online is free. Let's go big," says Bader.
That's where Bader's own site came in, with its indulgently huge images, glorious color schemes and a soap-opera-ish tale whose college-town elements often stretch into Angels in America grandeur, with bits of Jersey splitting into separate sequences (like Twelve Hours, following a different character exactly one hour after the previous story), brief playlets (Men) and a gone-meta finale featuring Bader and Zahradnik arguing about what's gone wrong. There are mirth-filled maps, ruminative footnotes, lengthy sidebars told by drunken men in area tap rooms and an epilogue masquerading as a 10-page comic where dead cats and old friends meet as angels in a netherworld between life and death. At times messy, meandering and slow-to-load, True Jersey's nothing less than intriguingly romantic.
Rather than eschew publishing, Bader's hope is that the Web siteplus a "Free Milton campaign" of MySpace-like blogging which he hopes will get tastemakers whispering down the lanewill snag him a publishing deal. "There are more straightforward ways to get the attention of publishers. And that's not to say I haven't tried the traditional routeboth agents and publishers alike have in fact turned down the book," says Bader. "But this idea just seems like the most honestand more importantly, the most fun."