Join us for a Sunday afternoon reading and meetup at Seattle's Cupcake Royale on Capitol Hill. We will be there from 4-6 p.m. sharing our works from Typetrigger (and maybe beyond). Select your favorite pieces, bring a friend, and have a cupcake and coffee while we listen to the stories we have read. We will be recording this meetup for a podcast, so that even if you can't make it this time you can hear our voices. Hope to see you there!
Last week I attended a dinner for Matthew Stadler's newest book, Chloe Jarret's La Cucaracha. Stadler wrote this book as a "cover" of John LeCarre's mystery novel A Murder of Quality. While in Mexico to work on another book, Stadler stumbled upon Le Carre's book and decided that he wished to write the same book.
To embark upon the writing of a "cover" book is, of course, to embrace the formulaic (by definition), and to set aside concerns about authenticity. (Anne K. Yoder wrote a thorough review of Stadler's work as a cover on The Millions, which is worth a read even if you don't plan to read Stadler or LeCarre.) Listening to Stadler talk about wanting to break free of his own conventions, I realized that whether we are novices or have boxes of books with our name on them, we all continue to practice learning the form(s).
Stadler started by making a complete, chapter-by-chapter "score" of Le Carre's book, in which he framed the major events of each chapter, as well as the entrances and departures of characters. With this framework in place, Stadler set out to flesh out the story with his own characters, set in his own book in Guanajuato, Mexico (Le Carre's book was English in place and manner). He held up the score, a couple of sheets of paper taped together with tidy boxes holding all pertinent information. When his book was finished, some of his friends were dismayed, wishing for a "Matthew Stadler book." So he self-published La Cucaracha under the pseudonym Chloe Jarret (he had reclaimed authorship since, hence new title).
It seems clear to me that Stadler's book is a cover notionally more than anything, no more a mere adaption of another author's work than one person is an adaptation of her parents. A shared set of characteristics does not make two things identical, and an antecedent is not inherently more valuable than its descendant. But the idea of a cover is, as Stadler himself claims, an homage to the original as well. Homage is central to creativity, whether the tribute is paid to other works, or to people or ideas or places. Nonetheless, a cover book seems radical when undertaken openly by an author whose own work already had fans.
Was Stadler merely escaping the constraints of his own name? This is a real challenge to established voices, as discussed in a recent New Yorker article on the author John Banville/Benjamin Black.
What can we learn as cover artists? Have you ever studied the score of a favorite work? When you practice through copying, do you feel it is your own work? There was a time when no visual artist worth the title would deign to deny intimate familiarity with the masters. To copy and copy and copy was the way to learn. One would imagine tracing to know how it felt to hold a stick of charcoal the way the masters had. Only by knowing how each effect was achieved did someone learn how they wanted to do it differently. We don't value such labors as much, and the painting factories in China that crank out flawless oils by the hundreds are supplying gauche McVillas rather than discerning collectors. The understanding of the masters has not rendered the copyists valuable, even thought their iterations are to some extent their own covers. Copying may be tolerated as a private practice, but it has little respect in the literary world as a method. In music, on the other hand, remixing and covering are a rich part of the culture and deft plays are celebrated.
Where does creative authorship begin?
On Wednesday, shortly after announcing our very first grant winner, I headed to a book event with Matthew Stadler, author and founder of Portland's Publication Studio. The evening revolved around a dinner, during which Stadler read excerpts from his latest novel, Chloe Jarret's La Cucaracha. After the dinner, Stadler spoke with John Roderick about the process of making this book and the future of books in general. While we tend, here at Typetrigger, to think digitally, we are essentially book people, and what is happening to books and other print publications has both worried and excited us.
One of the most thrilling new ideas for the world of the physical book is the on-demand book. Sites like Lulu and MagCloud have been offering on-demand high quality printing and binding for a while, and many authors are turning to these kinds of outlets for self publishing. While the books from sites like these are physical and "real," the relationship between reader and book provider is anonymous. Publication Studio and a handful of other print-on-demand services are now looking at what happens when the machinery is moved into a storefront, with real people to assist both the book makers and the book seekers.
Two editions of Stadler's books were available that night. The first was a file-folder covered edition made by Publication Studio, sturdy and reminiscent of a script. The second was a full-color covered beauty that rivaled the trade paperbacks you'd see in a traditional bookstore, which was printed by the Espresso Book Machine at Third Place Press. Both editions looked and felt far better than the on-demand books I was seeing a couple of years ago, and the concept of a book-buying revival was thrilling.
The idea of self-publishing is at once empowering and disheartening. Instead of feeling that to succeed we must be magically "chosen" and then assisted along the path to renown, we must consider the whole process and take responsibility for it, from plot to editing to marketing. Roderick asked Stadler a bit about the ego shift that must be experienced by a self-published author: does he not feel undervalued with smaller audiences? Stadler argued that in fact we must place more value on the one-to-one connections. Not each book need be a best seller (and the warehouses of overstock from traditional publishers prove that large print runs do not guarantee large audiences). If we as writers can transport one person: good. That person might share the experience, and it might multiply in a grassroots fashion. But even if it does not, the intimate has value.
This reminded me so much of what we experience on Typetrigger. Though we might not meet in a bookshop or at a reading, we are lucky to have an intimate sense of our audience, a sort of call-and-response that ripples through the community. I am excited to consider the ways in which Typetrigger and our writers might interact with these new on-demand houses.
Stadler covered a lot of ground during his talk, and so much of what he shared felt relevant to the Typetrigger community, so next week I will write more blog posts about some of the other themes of the evening.
The panelists have declared a winner! It was a fascinating and challenging process to make our way through the works of all of our grant applicants and pick one winner, but thanks to a fantastic panel of judges, a Typetrigger winner has been selected as the first recipient of our quarterly grant.
Our congratulations to sparklepony, a Seattle writer who has been part of the Typetrigger community since our early days. Our panelists were moved by many other pieces of writing, but sparklepony's full development of character and story was outstanding, the variety of writing and feeling compelling.
We have an incredible, talented, encouraging group of writers here, and we feared it would be hard to award the prize. It was a tough decision for us, especially since we feel like we "know" so many of you through your writing and participation in the community. We are grateful to our panelists for stepping in as outsiders to look at all of this writing with fresh eyes.
Here's a bit of insight on how the decision was made: we looked first all of the applicants and verified that they had met the requirements for consideration (24 pieces of writing before June 1). We then went through and made a short list of writers whose work was outstanding in a variety of ways. We included all genres in our selection, and we tried to select a variety of styles of writing. Several pieces of writing from each of the short-listed writers was then sent to the panelists. We removed the names and tags from the writing so that the pieces stood more or less on their own. From there, it was up to the panelists to decide who to grant the grant to.
A huge thank you to our fantastic panel:
Zachary Watterson is a Pushcart Prize nominee whose writing appears in The Massachusetts Review, River Styx, USA Today online, and elsewhere.He is the recipient of scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a residency from The Jentel Arts Foundation, and a 2011 grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation.
Frances McCue is an award winning poet, essayist, teacher, and arts instigator. Her writing has appeared in diverse publications. She published two books in the past year: The Bled, a book of poems, and The Car That Brought You Here Still Runs, a collection of essays on Richard Hugo.
Greg Lundgren, founder of Vital 5 Productions, is an art maker and curator, whose past projects have included galleries, installations, publications and arts grants. He is also the founder of Seattle gallery/bar The Hideout and the revitalized historical Vito's.
Urban Waite is the Seattle-based author of the acclaimed The Terror of Living, which was published earlier this year by Little, Brown. His short fiction can be found in The Best of the West Anthology, The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Hayden's Ferry Review, AGNI, West Branch and many other publications.
Several months ago, we found out about a kindred site on the internet, Six Minute Story. We are kinda glad that we had never heard about it, because the concept is similar enough to Typetrigger that we might never have started if we'd known what founder Galen Sanford had created.
Six Minute Story issues prompts in the form of words or images, and instead of having a word count, members have a timer. While most of the responses are fiction (the header of the site calls it "a flash fiction experiment"), there are some writers who venture in other areas. Six Minute Story is as fun to read as it is to write on, and an active core community seems to be keeping tabs on who is doing what.
Luckily there is room enough in this world for many communities of writers. We asked Galen, a fellow Seattleite, a few things about his community and the short-writing experience.
TT: First of all, why six minutes?
Three minutes was too short, 12 too long.
TT: What is your writing background?
My AP English teacher told me I could write and, gullible as I was, I started writing. Pretty soon, friends bugged me if I didn't write. Now I just avoid my friends.
TT: In your FAQ it says that Six Minute Story is dedicated to constraints, as well as preventing "death by revision." both concepts that are central to Typetrigger. How do you think this improves writing? What lessons have you learned from six-minute writing?
Fiction is when we give ourselves the chance to empathize with characters and ideas we normally wouldn't – usually because our own subculture ridicules us if we do. The six minute constraint forces us to draw from what's obvious: the icebergs we navigate around if given the time. We might attempt this normally, when we decide to create, but when we revise we gradually push our treatment of our characters towards the middle, to make them salable. The impoverished irony is true human experience outsells pandering. And the real is beloved a whole lot longer.
TT: Is there a most popular genre or style of writing on Six Minutes Story?
According to our Genres cloud Drama, Fantasy and Romance are tops. Some of the most active members, like Tommy-Louise, skymar1998, and recently TimSevenhuysen of 50WordStories have led the way in these Genres.
The most popular style of writing is dialog. It's a compact, rapid, fluid way to convey exposition, character development and plot movement all at once. Some of the best examples come from bespectakate and davidjmcgee.
TT: What is the community on Six Minute Story like? Do your members know one another offline?
I'm not sure if they know each other AFK or not, as the majority seem to find the site through their friends on Twitter. At the moment the community is a loosely networked group of flash-fiction writers and a few rather anonymous and rather talented outliers.
TT: How do you write a six-minute story? Do you plan it out before you start or does it come to you as you type?
I usually get a single strong image and write around that. Six minutes only really gives you time for one scene.
TT: Galen asked members of the Six Minute Story community how they approach it, and here are some of their answers.
I ignore second thoughts, or self criticism on the six minute timer,
and I write only the first words out of my gut. Writing on the timer
forces me to take a single photograph, or premise, which I decorate
with the ideas I would typically ignore as being too far-fetched to
use. It prevents me from being left with a malformed manuscript and
opening paragraphs I excessively tend to.
-Cee Martinez (@dazedpuckbunny)
For me, the key is to relax and go with the flow. If I over think a prompt I start to panic and my mind goes blank, so I take a deep breath, click Write and go with my first thought. Some stories are more successful than others, of course, but I write better under pressure. I like knowing that I have a time limit and I have to get something down, because it stops me procrastinating. I rarely get everything I want to write down in six minutes, but I have a lot of fun trying. The main problem I have is repetition of words, which is frustrating on the read through but by then, it’s too late. I have to try harder to get it right next time.
-Katherine Murphy (@murphykam)
The six-minute stories I write tend to end up in one of three categories – stories I already have a vague idea about (possibly percolating in the back of my mind for a few days, before being shaped by a prompt), stories I have a clear idea for after the prompt appears, and stories that catch me by surprise. That last one is probably the most interesting – stories where I start off writing one thing but a chance phrase takes me by surprise and into a much more interesting direction, or where I get another idea that I like much more halfway through...
Ultimately, though, I just write – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. There are times when I just close the window, and times when I write something that I love that nobody else seems to.
-Kate Evans (@bespectakate)
When I sit down to write a six-minute story, I intentionally avoid giving myself any time to think. I navigate to the "Write" page, check one last time to make sure I'm not likely to be interrupted, then click inside the writing area and get started. I think anything else is not only cheating the system, but also cheating my own creative process. What I mean is that, for me, forethought and, er, "backthought" are very useful, but they can hamper the freshness and the uniqueness of my work. So I focus on pure creativity, and I only tweak my writing if I think I have a bit of time afterwards.
I never have a story in mind when I start the prompts, but most of my stories are true and/or are from experience. I click "write," look at the prompt, and sometimes the story comes to me right away and I can type for six straight minutes (I always run out of time before I can proof read). Sometimes, I write a few words, close the prompt, and go back to it. Other times, I read the prompt, close it, and think about what story I want to tell to accompany the prompt. My favorite prompts are the Images; it's much easier for me to write to what I can visualize, although my favorite 6ms submission ever is called "New Year, New Love," that I wrote to a free form prompt. Those prompts, to me, are the hardest; in the case of this story, the subject was just on my mind.
TT: I am curious, dear Typetriggerers, how these experiences compare to your own. I (Lily) gave Six Minute Story a try, and while I felt less intimidated because of the Typetrigger experience than I might have, it was a very different experience. I would love to hear from our community how you all approach a trigger, and if you try Six Minute Story I'd love to hear about the ways in which it is the same or different. Thank you Galen for taking the time to talk to us, and thanks to all the Six Minute members for sharing your insights!