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M.D. Coverley
Egypt: The Book of Going Forth by Day
Toolbook, Director

California native Marjorie C. Luesebrink, who writes under the name of M. D. Coverley, has been creating electronic literature since 1995. Her work has been published by Eastgate; The Iowa Review Web; New River; Salt Hill; The Salt River Review; Cauldron & Net; Artifacts; and The Blue Moon Review. It has also been featured at the Guggenheim, the Digital Arts Center at UCLA, Brown University, and trAce, and she is one of the writers selected for a retrospective at the 2012 Electronic Literature Organization Conference.

She is a Professor at School of Humanities and Languages, Irvine Valley College in Irvine, California, where she teaches creative writing.

Using words, images, animation, and audio to interface complex narratives of history, culture, and myth, M. D. Coverley has created a series of hypermedia novels that include Egypt: The Book of Going Forth by Day and Califia, a story of five generations of Californians. (published by Eastgate in 2000)

For her Authoring Software statement, The Making of Tin Towns and other Excel Fictions, she documents her new work, Tin Towns, an information-intensive narrative that explores loss/losses in a technological framework, from the role of tin shortages in the demise of the Bronze Age to the technologies of human and site care systems in the under-reported aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. Focusing on the complicated process of selecting authoring systems for new media in a changing software, platform and interface environment, in her statement she discusses the process of creating a work of electronic literature using the spreadsheet application Excel.

For more information about M.D. Coverley, visit her homepage at

M.D. Coverley: Egypt: The Book of Going Forth by Day

Egypt: The Book of Going Forth by Day - is a CD-ROM - based, extended narrative in hypermedia. Because of the complexity, it was conceived and written, from the beginning, with a variety of software programs. The most stubborn problem, all along, however, was trying to find an overall authoring program that would continue to be viable and supported. The following notes were written in fall, 2002. They account for several years of struggle - attempts to get Egypt written on some kind of secure platform. Since 2002, of course, Director has seen a couple of new versions and has been sold to Adobe, a company that is not keeping it current as they have another creative Suite (which does include Flash - but not Director). And so, despite significant effort, Egypt exists on a platform that will not be supported in the future.

Egypt is an extreme example, of course, because it uses text, sound, image, flash panels, animations, elaborate architecture, and so forth. But the search for semi-permanent platforms is endemic in Electronic Literature.

Toolbook Version

As I look at the Toolbook version from 1998, I am struck with how antique it seems a mere four years later. The small screen resolution contributes to this - but more indicative for me is the awkwardness of the navigation and flow. Part of that effect is due to my own lack of expertise in the medium - but I had already done most of Califia by that time, and I remember I was still struggling with authoring features that did not lend themselves easily to a long, fictional narrative and ready access to a large database of material. My experience has been that the navigation structure is one of the most difficult aspects of writing hypermedia narratives.

The differences between the Toolbook version and later versions is most vivid in the employment of the graphics. My ideas about what the graphic environment needs to contribute to the overall "text" has evolved over time. In 1998, I was still hesitant to allow the graphic elements to support themselves. But in order to allow the graphics a greater autonomy, they need to be not only background and local color, information and orientation, but also to embody the essence of the structure and context. This Toolbook version is a good example of graphics that are not fully integrated into the concept of the whole. [The change from a white background to a black one (later) was occasioned by my testing of Califia and problems with the background color for that novel. White is very harsh for a long piece - and off-white tended to fight with the brilliant colors that are so characteristic of Egyptian art. So, the subsequent versions with black backgrounds not only changed the look, but dictated a different set of graphics.]

If one reads the beginning of the narrative, however, the text seems to start out much the same in all of the versions. However, the opening sequence has been altered slightly, but significantly, to reflect what has come to be a change in the entire direction of the plot. In the Toolbook version the narrator begins her journey in Cairo and proceeds upriver to Aswan. In the later versions, the journey is downriver - Aswan to Cairo. Moreover, in the early versions (Toolbook, HTML, and DHTML) - the Jeanette/Ba narrator is alive (both symbolically and really) and she comes to Egypt to participate in the Osiris drama as a helpmeet/witness for her brother. In the Director version, we discover that Jeanette is probably already dead, and that her Ba, Ka, and Akh are reunited in the process of accompanying Osiris on his journey downriver and through the symbolic underworld.

The use of hieroglyphs as navigation features is only rudimentarily developed in the Toolbook version. One major problem was finding a hieroglyphic font that would produce robust glyphs and could be imported into another program. In the end, I bowed to necessity and made separate .gif and .jpg files for each one - but at the time of the Toolbook version, I was still trying to avoid that.


Oh dear! I find it very hard to think about these versions, since they are obsolete before even being born!


I have been grateful to Barry Smylie, Jim Andrews, Deena Larsen and other hypertext writers for their explication of the process and thinking that has gone into their works. It's far easier to move on to the next problem than it is to write about the labyrinthine details of construction. The Director/Shockwave version that you will access on this disk is not only unfinished, it is at the very stage that the multi-media artist junks the whole thing and starts over. In the new version which emerges, the features that need to be there will stubbornly remain, and the jetsam of several exploratory drafts will be pruned out. The process of starting over is particularly important in this case, because I was learning Director as I went along.

A few things, however, have been central to this iteration of Going Forth. First, Director is a time-based authoring system. I had worked with Flash in the past, so I was familiar with the timeline method of setting up triggers and events. However, Flash is not well suited to interactivity - and we often see Flash pieces that simply run through without reader input. Director allows several different ways to pause a sequence, jump to another frame of the movie, or jump to another movie altogether. What is significant about these features in Director (as opposed to the spatial, object-database of Toolbook or the "page" limits of HTML) is that one makes pathways through time as well as space using this program. Left to its own devices, a 300-frame Director movie might run through in a matter of ten seconds. However, using the delay and jump features, one can construct a "temporal/spatial horizon" that will take some time to explore - a document organized in layered space and marked time. In re-creating Going Forth in Director, I have utilized this aspect of the program because it is in keeping with the fluid quality of Egyptian narratives. [I am indebted to Scott McCloud, too, for his theories of the "infinite page" in comic strips.]

In traditional critical terms, "formal" and "meta" aspects of a work are easily identified. In hypermedia work, too, we see some examples of self-referent in the use of visible coding/reference or in works whose subject is media and media theory. Another possibility for investigation, perhaps less remarked upon, is that of the work/structure referent - the way in which the structure of the work can represent a conscious interrogation of the visual/sensory language of hypermedia. One concrete example of this might be Deena Larsen's Samplers, where each stitch in the quilt graphic represents a link to a part of the story. In writing Califia, I was very concerned with the way the structure of the interface mapped to the actual geographical space. While it was a challenge to arrange an architecture where the real geography of Los Angeles, the imagined spatial structure of the hypertext, a history of events, and the narrative itself could be superimposed into one mapping system, in a sense I was only working with layered space. The screen itself was static unless I chose to introduce animation (in small elements). With Director, the program is always, already in movement. Thus, a new approach to mapping the structure of the work, and signaling this to the reader, had to be devised.

The solution was to draw from the conceptual relationship between Egyptian hieroglyphs and art. Many texts on Egyptian art point out that the hieroglyph is the basis for all of the "tomb art" that we are familiar with. That is, the image/picture is the hieroglyph writ large and embellished. Even in hunting scenes, for example, the birds in the swamp are sets of hieroglyphs, colored and detailed, but all identical in shape - and all of them the hieroglyph for "duck."

How would this work? Well, it needed to start with the navigation orientation. The opening title sequence of Going Forth consists of three lines. These represent the earth, the river, and the sky - two horizontal lines and one vertical line. When they come to rest at the "go to" frame [that is, nothing happens until the reader chooses an option], they form the shape of the "neter" or flag glyph that signals "a god" or "the gods." [Egyptian art is frequently designed in the shape of hieroglyphics - even to the furniture from Tut's tomb.]

This shape becomes, in the subsequent sections, the registers of the virtual manuscript. The "sky" line expands to become the vertical register that carries the voice of the Akh (the manifestation of the eternal being that rides in the barque of the sun). The "river" line expands to embody the voice of the Ka (the soul in the tomb - and also the source of sub-movement on the screen). The "land" line marks the voice of the Ba (the part of the deceased that "goes forth by day"). These elements become the major navigation foci, as they will allow the reader to choreograph the temporal and spatial paths of the narrative.

Many other aspects of the content and navigation of the narrative are indicated in graphic and glyphic language, and these are not necessarily present in the text. For instance, the vertical scrolling hieroglyphs on the title page can be interpreted: water, sky, horizon, a million years; these mysteries given for eternity. On the narrative "days," the Flash sequence images often refer to the "language" of the hieroglyphs. The initial Flash sequence begins with a schematic of the Big Dipper - used by the Egyptians (in the symbolic form of a bull's hind leg) to "open the mouth" of the deceased as part of the rituals of burial. Then, an image of geese appears. The geese images are from a tomb at Meidum (part of the storyline), and they are imposed on a moon calendar that is stretched so that the moons look egg-shaped. All of these references are to the "beginning" or "the first time." The creative force was often referred to as "the great cackler." Structurally, too, the trope of the manuscript mapped onto an infinite interior world is extended. Readers are sure to ask, for example, why one cannot jump backwards in the narrative screens. I envisioned the navigation for the narrative as a symbolic journey downstream - one can go back, but it takes a bit of doing (readers can rewind that layer of the ms. from the Rubric, or they can choose a location to revisit from the Ba Narrative option on the False Door).

Readers often ask about the use of history or historical references in my work. Our popular view of Egyptian history has undergone lossy compression, and we tend to make little distinction between ideas and styles of the Old Kingdom, for example, and late Ptolemaic times under Cleopatra. [The Ba narrator, Jeanette, tends to see Egypt this way at the beginning.] Going Forth, though, centers on events and archaeology from the Middle Kingdom. The choice of the Middle Kingdom is based on the theories that have been developed about a period for which we have not much real information. However, some important aspects are established about this era. It is the earliest period in which we see the spells of the Book of the Dead written on coffins and on papyrus rolls buried with the corpse. Moreover, this epoch marks the beginning of the "democratization of death" - that is, individuals other than the king begin to participate, ritually, in the Osirian mythic cycle. Also, the art of the era consolidates the stylistic innovations of the Old Kingdom and refines the vocabulary of glyph/image that will form the conceptual basis of Egyptian representation for another two thousand years. Perhaps most important is the sense of the cyclical that is formed by the Middle Kingdom. In the time of Senusret I, Egyptian kings and scribes, at least, had retained a memory of the failure of the Old Kingdom and the chaos of the First Intermediate Period. Their architecture, art, and literature reflects the knowledge that they are not "the first time" - but that they consciously intend to recreate an ideal and stable universe. Scholars of Egyptian history may dispute some of the attributes and events that I have assigned to the Middle Kingdom - there is still much controversy about these centuries. And, too, this still fiction, and I had to invent the silver coffin (the only real silver coffin that we have is from much later).

Another controversial aspect is the use of hieroglyphs. While it was impractical to rely on real Egyptian text for several reasons, I have tried to stay true to the symbolic meaning of the glyphs throughout (more information about this in the piece under *The Project*). The title, Re en Per em Hru, however, is the suspected pronunciation of The Book of Going Forth by Day, and the glyphs are accurate.

Platform Evolution

Notes on the platform evolution of The Book of Going Forth by Day

The first, short draft version (Iteration 1) of The Book of Going Forth was created in 1998. This version was done in Toolbook Publisher 4. [Toolbook is a robust, object-oriented, database-design authoring system that is supported by a proprietary code, Open Script - originally produced by Asymetrix.]

In 1999 and 2000 I worked, when possible, on a much longer Web version. [The time-consuming aspect of transcription between platforms involves not only page and navigation re-design and the inevitable changes to text and context. In switching platforms from Toolbook 4 to HTML, I had to re-do all the graphics from .bmp to .jpg or .gif, find substitute midi or MP3 sound files for the .wav files, and so forth.]

Iteration 2 for the WWW was done for Level 4 Browsers, using extensive DHTML, Javascript, and Java Applets. By 2001, many of the features of Iteration 2 would no longer work on Level 5/6 Browsers, and so I undertook a new design/expansion - Iteration 3. In order to facilitate Web access, I needed to re-configure the coding on all the pages and migrate from DHTML and Javascript to Flash and W3C standards.

Iteration 3 was some 210 MB, 1400 files, and reflected, I thought, a nearly complete draft. [Iteration 3 has been up at my Website as an example of a novel-in progress for the past year.]

At the point of having a "nearly complete" draft, however, I was still a long way from being finished - such is the nature of electronic work! As you know, while the rough drafting can be done in sections, the finish/polish work requires an extended concentration period - not just early mornings and weekends (too short a time to even figure out what the file structure was, again). In light of my teaching load, it began to look as though, if I could not find some clear time to work, I would never be able to finish Going Forth before it was obsolescent on the next level Browser. Somehow, I needed to find a way to secure more platform stability and to get enough time to complete the project.

In preparation for the work ahead, I began to re-investigate the platform issue. The first thing that I found was that the latest versions of IE 6 did not automatically play Flash files (requested a Microsoft Flash player) and that this player really only wanted to play Flash MX files - would not easily handle Flash 4/5 files. Even though I had so much invested in Iteration 3 for the WWW, it began to seem that I would perhaps be better off returning to a platform that would be stable on a CD with a reader mechanism - avoiding the Browser issue altogether. The two candidates were Director 8.5 and the old standby, Toolbook (now called Click-2-Learn and also at version 8.5). I did mini-models of a new iteration on both platforms, and, though these platforms encourage very different solutions to discrete writing problems, they each have strong points. The deciding factor, at the end, was the fact that my 30 days had expired for Toolbook help - and no more Open Script/Neuron (the rather flaky Web translator) advice would be forthcoming; on the other hand, several friends use Director, and I could get help with programming Lingo. I also tried out the Shockwave feature and can have a Web presence with Director (limited by the downloading time, but a possible delivery method).

I now have a few sections done in Director - Iteration 4.

This journey through the Tuat-like underworld of hypermedia technology has been an extended curriculum in examining possible approaches to long narratives in this medium.

Some observations:

a.. In Iteration 1, I wanted to figure out how to construct a multilinear set of voices that represented the three states of the Egyptian death/soul - the Ba, the Ka, and the Akh. In that Iteration, as well, I wanted to see if I could use the visual language of hieroglyphics as an integral part of the plot and also as the navigation scheme.
b.. In Iteration 2, I struggled with the integration of peripheral information. How much did the reader need to know to proceed? How could the reader get a sense of the parameters of the whole?
c.. By Iteration 3, I had mostly solved the navigation issues and voice problems and began to investigate the options for different kinds of spaces on the page (specifically prompted by the HTML which can be so flattening, no easy way to do multiple layers) - one in which the horizontal and vertical registers of the typical Egyptian manuscript each became infinite regress - opening windows on states of consciousness and historic time.
d.. Iteration 4 is characterized already by the fact that Director is a timeline-based software. An Egyptian manuscript is marked by a sense of eternity - but the story in a timeline-based software is always in movement, either potential or real. I am concentrating particularly, in this iteration, on those action behaviors that signify continuity and flow. Also, since Director is text-adverse, I will be cutting back considerably on the length - seeing if I can condense meaning into motion.

Authoring Software


Writers and Artists
Talk about Their Work
and the Software They
use to Create Their Work

Mark Amerika

Mark Bernstein
__Interview wirh Mark Bernstein

Bill Bly

Jay Bushman

J. R. Carpenter
__ The Broadside of a Yarn
__ Entre Ville
__ Chronicles of Pookie and JR

M.D. Coverley
__ Egypt: The Book of
Going Forth by Day

__ Tin Towns

Caitlin Fisher

Chris Funkhouser

Dene Grigar
__ 24-Hr. Micro-Elit
__ Fallow Field

Fox Harrell

William Harris

Megan Heyward

Adriene Jenik

Antoinette LaFarge

Deena Larsen

Judy Malloy

Mark C. Marino

María Mencía

Nick Montfort
__Nick Montfort and
Stephanie Strickland
Sea and Spar Between

Judd Morrissey

Stuart Moulthrop
__ Interview with
Stuart Moulthrop

Karen O'Rourke

Regina Pinto

Andrew Plotkin

Sonya Rapoport:
__Interview with
Sonya Rapoport

Aaron Reed

Scott Rettberg

Stephanie Strickland
__Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland
Sea and Spar Between

Eugenio Tisselli

Dan Waber