A good story will always find new ways to be told, and here’s proof featuring one of the most popular tales of the last 20 years.
First, back in 1994, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” was a book. And not just a book, but a publishing sensation, selling millions of copies and pushing Savannah into the tourism stratosphere.
Then came an audiobook, a lifeless movie by Clint Eastwood, and plans for a Broadway musical.
Now, 21 years after John Berendt insisted on publishing it with no photos of its real-life cast and locations, “Midnight” is the first title of a multimedia iPhone/iPhad app called Metabook. The app is loaded with photos, text, audio clips – even an audio dramatization of the book with Laverne Cox of “Orange Is the New Black” voicing The Lady Chablis.
Berendt spoke Thursday night at the Margaret Mitchell House about the new version of his book, probably the second most-popular Georgia title after Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind.”
He was joined on a panel by audio director Robin Miles and creative director Benjamin Alfonsi. They plan to produce a second non-fiction Metabook soon, augmented again with a tremendous volume of authentic source material. And Alfonsi promised a new novel by a famous American author will follow.
The digital book app includes the “Midnight” text, a 3D rendering of the Bird Girl statue, bios and updates on the characters, and a panoramic view of Bonaventure Cemetery. It also has crime scene photos with Berendt’s commentary and audio recordings of central figure Jim Williams (played, not to Berendt’s pleasure, by Kevin Spacey in the movie).
‘It Will Be a Wholly Different Shape’
Will Metabooks catch on as a way to appeal to younger readers used to more interactive experiences than print or plain e-books? “Midnight” seems a good place to test the waters, given its enduring popularity and the wealth of extras that flesh out the story. It might bring in new readers and please fans who crave even more details about Savannah, Williams and his multiple trials for killing his young lover.
For Berendt, it now makes sense to add multimedia material (including those photos he objected to originally) because readers today can easily find the real thing online. That wasn’t an option when he wrote the original narrative, and he wanted them to rely solely on his prose for their mental images, rather than on snapshots in the middle of the print copy.
“Midnight” spent 216 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and sold some 5 million copies. Even the awful movie had an upshot: It paid for Berendt’s New York City townhouse.
Could a publishing phenomenon like that happen today, Berendt was asked by moderator Richard Eldredge of Atlanta magazine.
“It will be a wholly different shape,” Berendt replied. “It will never occur in the way it happened back then because bookstores were at the heart of it, and that’s not the case anymore. So I don’t know what the scenario will be, but there will be publishing phenomenon.
“It’ll be much harder for a very small book to break out. On the other hand, there is this incredible digital revolution and the Internet, so something could go break out, something could go viral very quickly from small to big.
“It’ll have to be viral , and I didn’t have any viruses going for me back then, so I can’t tell you.”