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App, Secret Sites Create The Immersive World Of 'Night Film'

A screen shot of the <em>Night Film </em>decoder app.
/ Random House
Random House
A screen shot of the Night Film decoder app.

When you watch a DVD these days, there's a whole array of extras waiting for you after the movie — commentaries, deleted scenes, special re-creations that add to the experience.

But what if you are a novelist and want to do the same? Could you? Should you?

In her new thriller, author Marisha Pessl mixes traditional literature with elements from the digital world. The book is called Night Film, and it's the fast-moving tale of a relentless journalist trying to unravel the mysterious death of a famous filmmaker's daughter.

But the story doesn't end there.

In the very back of the book, just before the acknowledgements, you'll find instructions to continue the story — with an app. Pessl tells NPR's Audie Cornish that the idea for the app originally came from her need to find a quick way to set up the world of reclusive filmmaker Stanislas Cordova for her readers. "I wanted to have cultural cornerstones that immediately alerted readers to the fact that he was endemic within popular culture as this reclusive cult figure," she says.

Interview Highlights

On her non-tech-savvy main character, reporter Scott McGrath

"These people do still exist, the ones who still have trouble figuring out how to use cellphones, 'cause I'm friends with some of these people, so I wanted a bit of old-school throwback to those days where we did need printed paper. But I think it is hard, in the sense of writing a thriller, that there can't be too much miscommunication.

"I used to always think that so many old movies wouldn't work in this day and age, because old screwball comedies were about miscommunication, and telegrams getting lost, and in this day and age, we as writers have to be creative within these new boundaries of technology. But rather than bemoaning the fact that we just know too much about everything, we can still find mystery, and we can still find those dark recesses where we can build worlds."

On the other multimedia she's created for Night Film

"There are screen shots of hidden websites, there are blog postings and anonymous user comments, and sprinkled throughout these illustrations there is a secret, very discreet bird symbol, and if you download the app and scan the illustration that has this bird symbol, you will get extra content on your tablet or phone.

"Ideally you will read the book, and if you want to continue the experience, that's when you find out about the app, and you can get additional content in that way. But it is certainly not something that you need to do while you're reading, because I love the immersive reading experience, and I did not want to interrupt that in any way with technology."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff