Pitt alum publishes serialized email novel


(Illustration by Liam McFadden | Staff Illustrator)

By Sarah Morris / Staff Writer

With a growing number of people flocking to Kindles and iPads for reading, publishing novels online seems to be the modern— and eco-friendly — option for contemporary literature.

Adam Dove, who graduated from Pitt in 2014 with a degree in fiction writing, decided to tap into this trend and release his new novel “The Truth” via email installments. The serialized email novel — which follows four characters and their journey through the Appalachian Mountains as they wrestle with notions of faith and identity — delivers micro chapters to its readers’ inboxes twice a week.

“It’s the first project I’ve ever done that I now feel confident telling people I am the writer, because I feel like I’ve taken ownership of the process from start to finish,” Dove said.

The novel — which released its first installment Sept. 10 — will show up in subscribers’ inboxes every Wednesday and Sunday over the course of the next six months. Dove chose to publish his work through this platform as a way to reach readers and directly engage with them.

“This has become kind of my lifeblood at this point,” Dove said.

Which makes sense — writing enough material for six months of installments, in addition to handling all of the logistics of the unusual form, is a lot of work. Dove said he has about a quarter of the material written. That terrifies him, but it is also part of the fun of the format.

“Not only is it going out to people via email, but we’ve also set up a whole Facebook online infrastructure for a ‘low stakes book club’ for people to get in and talk about what they’ve just read, and talk about ideas and theories,” Dove said.

This creates an interactivity uncommon in novels — reminiscent of a choose-your-own-adventure story. Even though Dove is in control of his work, he is open to listening to what his readers have to say about it, and will possibly incorporate their suggestions.

“I think that when you’re writing you should always be […] staying true to what it is that you are trying to say in the first place,” Dove said. “I don’t think you should be overly swayed by what people want, but I think you should understand when people don’t want what you want to write — and then don’t write that.”

For Dove, this process takes the guesswork out of figuring out what his readers want. Dove knows that a lot of people tend to suggest that writers should write exclusively for themselves,  but he rejects that idea in favor of finding something an audience will appreciate.

“It provides a window into the reader’s mind that I think the writer should always be thinking about,” Dove said.

And with Dove constantly catering to his reader and trying to find an audience for his writing, he feels pressured to make sure people want to keep reading his work. He knows his emails come with an unsubscribe button — and that’s the last thing he wants people clicking.

Dove faced different pressures during school and just after graduation. He said there is a lot of weight put on students in writing programs to become “career writers,” and to write in a particular style.

“Coming out of undergrad with a fiction writing major, my immediate thought was always that I’m going to have to get a job that I don’t like in something completely unrelated, and then do all my writing on the side. And the doing-all-my-writing-on-the-side is definitely true,” Dove said.

Students in the writing program at Pitt today also feel this way — Tyler Andrew, a senior majoring in writing, literature and film, wants to enroll in more schooling after his undergrad to try to land a job he actually wants.

“We talk a lot about how releasing your work might happen, and it’s very likely impossible that you will make any money off of it, at least for a long time,” Andrew said. “What I’ve been instructed to do — and have planned to do — is start in teaching.”

Andrew’s plans are different from Dove’s, but both reveal that it’s possible to find jobs in writing that don’t involve becoming a best-selling novelist. Dove — who works for CMU and writes most of the content on the engineering website — said his technical writing job influences his work as a fiction writer.

“I’m a communications manager there for energy and environmentally related news,” Dove said.
“I interface with a lot of news media and bring in TV people to do stuff. Then I also interview faculty about their research, [and] write feature stories.”

Dove has found a separate writing career outside of his creative writing. His creative writing has shifted and grown from what he’s learned at his day job, he said, and from constantly being surrounded by world-renowned roboticists and engineers.  

A creative writing degree can lead to a variety of career paths, according to Jeff Oaks — the assistant director of the writing program at Pitt. Oaks said many students who graduate from the program seem to take a roundabout route to writing. Many students go into teaching in some capacity, like Andrew discussed doing, though this is not the only possibility.

“People have gone into things like law — I know we have lawyers out there. Also medicine,” Oaks said. “It turns out that med schools and law schools are actively courting people who can write sentences that are clear. And it turns out that a lot of people can’t.”

Dove said real world experience in different jobs is necessary to grow as a writer — he’s writing more science fiction than he would’ve if he hadn’t taken his position at CMU.

“But now I don’t think I ever want to stop working a different job, seeing what’s happened to my writing. Not because of how much I wrote, but because of the other stuff I was doing at my job,” Dove said. “I couldn’t trade that for the world.”

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