Friday, September 30, 2011

Journey To the Center Of the Self: Murkami's "A Wild Sheep Chase"



I will admit to being my own worst critic at times, especially when it comes to self-critiquing my own writing and reviewing. My friends tell me that I'm too self-deprecating, which is not untrue. Therefore, perhaps as a personal defense mechanism, I'll occasionally administer an open confession in regard to literature. For example, if I'm reading a well-known writer for the first time, I might introduce an essay with a bewildered wonderment of how I've gone as long as I have without having read him or her. However, I feel this is warranted when it comes to the writings of Haruki Murakami. My readings of his works have been scattered at best, limited to a lot of his short stories and not his regarded novels. Like many in the literary community, I'm getting more and more excited about the upcoming publication of 1Q84, which is shaping up to be his most acclaimed novel. Since October is coming up very soon, I simply had to read one of his novels lest I come across like a poser when I get caught up in his newest work. Picking a Murakami novel to read is daunting, especially given that there are so many to choose from, and each one of his works has its own dedicated fan base. My best friend recently finished A Wild Sheep Chase and gave me his copy when he was finished. The timing worked out quite well. Unlike my foray into the works of John Cheever, I'm starting at Murakami's general beginning, rather than at the end. For such a briskly paced work, it's a strong mix of themes and styles, and an early indicator of what was to come.

A Wild Sheep Chase tells the story of a nameless advertising executive, a plain, logical, chain-smoking divorcee who uses a photo of a mountain-dwelling sheep herd in a small pamphlet. In addition to dealing the effects of his divorce, his interactions are limited to his new girlfriend (a woman with ears so perfectly formed as to overshadow the rest of her body), and his alcoholic advertising partner. The sheep photo catches the attention of a mysterious, potentially criminal organization. Unbeknownst to the narrator, one of the sheep has a black star image on its back, and the organization demands that he find the sheep immediately, or face the elimination of his company. He's given an envelope of money and vague instructions, and along with his girlfriend, he embarks on the journey to locate the mysterious sheep. Along the way, the reader is introduced to an estranged man known only as the Rat; the proprietor of a run-down hotel and his father, a man known as the Sheep Professor; and at a remote mountain home, the stakes get weirder with the appearance of the fast-talking Sheep Man. Like many mystery stories, implications and personal detours abound. The search for the marked sheep is part of many journeys that are part of a larger destination. While some of the above summaries might seem like they're taken from an average mass market mystery, Murakami's early prose manages to make the novel enjoyable.

My previous look at Murakami's writing led me to make favorable comparisons between his own style and the story elements of Raymond Carver. With the exception of Jonathan Lethem's occasional homage to the old school mystery genre, I'm not familiar with the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. While A Wild Sheep Chase isn't a detective story, Murakami sets the story up with a heavy dose of confusion, ominous characters, and rapid dialogue and development that would undoubtedly be at home in a noir-like atmosphere. However, it's also mixed with psychological undertones just begging to be dissected.

"The room was utterly silent. Now there is the silence you encounter on entering a grand manor. And there is the silence that comes of too few people in a big space. But this was a different quality of silence altogether. A ponderous, oppressive silence. A silence reminiscent, though it took me a while to put my finger on it, of the silence that hangs around a terminal patient. A silence pregnant with the presentiment of death. The air faintly musty and ominous.

'Everyone dies,' said the man softly with downcast eyes. He seemed to have an uncanny purchase on the drift of my thoughts. 'All of us, whosoever, must die sometime (Murakami 124).'"

These passages are also balanced nicely with excellent metaphors and phrases that seemingly come in passing, yet stick out in their meticulous details:

"It took ten minutes for the beer to come. Meanwhile, I planted an elbow on the armrest of my chair, rested my head on my hand, and shut my eyes. Nothing came to mind. With my eyes closed, I could hear hundreds of elves sweeping out my head with their tiny brooms. They kept sweeping and sweeping. It never occurred to any of them to use a dustpan (Murakami 151)."

"The conductor was so totally without expression he could have pulled off a bank robbery without covering his face (Murakami 249)."



Murakami has been criticized by Japanese literary critics for his Western influences, but for all of Americanized touches, there's a definite atmosphere of Japanese solitude and hints of the dire consequences of nonconformity. For example, the aforementioned Sheep Professor's early life is presented in detail. He works in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, yet his mental and spiritual harmony results in being ostracized. In any culture, claiming to be in a "spiritual communion" with a sheep would be cause for being outcast, yet a knowledge of Japanese societal unity makes his tale that much more saddening, even if it's just a mysterious element in a fictional setting.

"February 1936. The Sheep Professor is ordered home to Japan. After undergoing numerous similar interrogations, he is transferred in the spring to the Ministry Reference Collection. There he catalogues reference materials and organizes bookshelves. In other words, he has been purged from the core elite of the East Asian agricultural administration (Murakami 215)."

I haven't gotten into the core of the novel's climax, partly because full explanations would be grave spoilers, but also because the last half of the novel takes on fantastically different themes. Plus, a complete summary, when done as a recap of the plot points, would render A Wild Sheep Chase as unintelligible. The star-marked sheep takes on quite a few potential meanings: in another review I skimmed, the case is made for it being a symbol of postwar Japan. However, there's also a case for the journey leading to a change in the narrator's life: in the mountain house, he's left alone and makes necessary life changes. He becomes accustomed to solitude, takes up running, and is forced to quit smoking. He doesn't present these changes as life-altering, but merely as an adaptation to his surroundings. At times, the sought-after sheep becomes an afterthought. The foray into realism then gets completely flipped as he communicates with potentially paranormal forces, taking them in stride as he does with every other detour in his life. This buildup of the other-worldly then descends into a seemingly casual ending, as the narrator tries to make peace with his associates and his journey in general.

A Wild Sheep Chase is the conclusion of "The Trilogy of the Rat," a series of Murakami's first forays into novel writing. While there is the possibility that the first two works could shed light on the open-ended meanings of the final work, it does manage to stand on its own. Murakami does manage to make the different elements connect, despite the consistent twists into different themes and settings. I can't immediately say that this will end up being one of my favorite novels, but it is genuinely surprising and gives the reader no choice but to ponder the underlying metaphors, and given that this is one of Murakami's earliest works, it's truly admirable in its scope, especially since it's such a fast, dialogue-heavy novel. It's not for everyone, especially if a reader is not accustomed to having to balance the mythological, the realistic, and the supernatural. Placing this into a single genre is impossible, but all of the elements tie together into one destination. It's easy to imagine this written by someone else and having it be a mess, but Murakami doesn't resort to any real trickery. It's ultimately up to the reader to decide what's real and what's not, and that in itself sums up the work as a whole.

Work Cited:
Murakami, Haruki. A Wild Sheep Chase. Copyright 1989 by Haruki Murakami.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chicago Flame Archives: Gael Garcia Bernal Interview

My reading schedule has been sporadic lately, and the bulk of my upcoming reviews will be taking shape in the next two weeks or so. Therefore, I'm continuing with my Chicago Flame archival process. Back in 2004, I had the great fortune to interview Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, who was promoting the 'Che' Guevara biopic The Motorcycle Diaries. Not only did I love Walter Salles' film, I had counted Gael Garcia Bernal among my favorite actors for a few years before the interview, and continuing until today. I admired his acting and willingness to take on daunting, exposed roles, as well as his intellect and mastery of languages. Upon meeting him for the interview, I was taken aback by his genuine courtesy, making sure that a handful of college journalists had the time to ask questions, and personally offering to get us something to drink. This article was written when I was twenty-one, and while it's not my best sample (I dubbed him the world's greatest actor; little sentences like these make me cringe years later), the memories of the interview were far greater. This is my third archival piece reprinted on this blog: the first one was my interview with Chuck Palahniuk, and the second one was my interview with Robert Duvall.

Portraying the Enigma That is 'Che'(originally published in The Chicago Flame, September 14, 2004)




Ernesto "Che" Guevara is among the most famous yet little understood political figures to have ever lived. Stroll downtown and you'll almost definitely see his image printed on a T-shirt or a backpack. His life story is very unbalanced, a struggle between the images of being a leader of the people and a crazed radical. Opinions vary to this day.

"He's well known but he's not," says Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal, who portrays him in The Motorcycle Diaries. "He's an icon that people recognize, but people don't know [about him]. We [Latinos] relate strongly to him. He's still so alive."
Going about portraying a famous figure in a movie is a challenge to any actor. Bernal is no exception.

"It was heavy and overwhelming. We prepared exhaustingly for six months, and then I still didn't feel ready. I wanted to do it well. It's who I am." Bernal adds: "He [Guevara] needed our experiences to be alive [on the screen]."

The new film by Walter Salles is astonishing. It tells Guevara's story from the beginning, based on his memoirs. We don't necessarily see a revolutionary in the making, but a young man being exposed to the world's harsh inequalities. Guevara was a medical student from Argentina when he and Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) embarked on a motorcycle trip across South America.




The two men have a couple of strikes against them. Granado's motorcycle is in anything but good condition, and Guevara suffers from a severe case of asthma, which plagued him throughout his life.

"He was weak," says Bernal. "He was quiet and observant."

But, in the tradition of any "road movie," the two men won't let anything stop or postpone the journey.

The first leg of their trip is to visit Celia, Ernesto's love interest. The two are definitely made for each other, but are plagued by sexual frustration and the looming continuation of his trip. She gives him fifteen American dollars to buy her a bikini, should he reach the United States.

The interactions between Guevara and Granado (both before and after the first detour) are very important in setting up the mood for the rest of the film. Their dialogue is playful, humorous, and juvenile.

"I could use my voice," comments Bernal, "and not be so heroic and dramatic."

We know that the film will detail Guevara's ideological changes, but the script and the acting are very natural. Neither man gets weighed down in tiresome, scripted dialogue. It's very likely that they engaged in banter like that. The film doesn't rush the central message.
As their travels continue, they get into some hilarious misadventures. While in Chile, in order to get their motorcycle fixed for free, they interact with the locals, getting on their good side while over-hyping their medical skills. Why would they do that? Well, it's enough to land them in the local newspaper, which is good to flash at the town mechanic when they're low on cash.

Once they enter Venezuela and Peru, Guevara gets a hard look at the downtrodden citizens. They meet an elderly mining couple, desperate for work and persecuted for their communist beliefs. Their work at a Peruvian leper colony further shows Guevara the separation between rich and poor.

His journal entry at an ancient Incan city sums up the discrepancies: "The Incas had astronomy, knew brain surgery, and mathematics. The Spanish [who destroyed the Incan civilization] had gunpowder."

To properly analyze this film, one must begin with the acting, led by Gael Garcia Bernal. He is arguably the greatest actor in world cinema. His past films (Amores Perros, Y Tu Mama Tambien and The Crime of Padre Amaro) quickly showed American audiences how talented he is, in addition to drawing a lot of controversy for their subject matters. Bernal has no problem with controversy over his or anyone else's films.

"Controversy is when a personal point of view is exposed," he explains. "It's healthy."

Rodrigo de la Serna provides a wonderful parallel as Granado, being both the main comic relief and a touching mode of understanding for the youthful Guevara.

Like any political leader, "Che" Guevara was by no means perfect. He was a leader of the people, and his opposition to U.S. intervention in Latin America led to his assassination in 1967.

"Democracy is very fishy," says Bernal. "There's no real representation or way of governing. The U.S. is not a great nation, it's a great people."

"That's what cost him [Guevara] his life."

Most importantly, Guevara was human. The Motorcycle Diaries shows the compassion and determination of a young man during a crucial stage in his life. All politics aside, the film is a moving, beautiful tribute to the desire for equality.

The film will surely add to Bernal's growing reputation as the world's greatest actor.

"[I'll only do a movie] if there's something meaningful," he says. "I feel shitty not doing something comfortable. It's not for the money...if it was, I'd be living in LA and trying to be a star."

Most importantly, Bernal is optimistic that The Motorcycle Diaries will be an inspiration to people everywhere.

"It re-affirmed my priorities and challenged me. It's an approach, a pathway to knowledge. You can understand the human condition and work to change it."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Lost Paradise: John Cheever



Oh What a Paradise It Seems, a novella that proved to be John Cheever's final published work of fiction, is admittedly a strange starting point, especially when placed next to his much more esteemed bibliographic selections. Perhaps I should be embarrassed that it has taken me this long to get around to him, or perhaps I would have been better off beginning with The Stories of John Cheever, which I've owned for a few months. As for novels, Falconer is his most acclaimed work. I was at a community yard sale last month, and the final house had by far the best collection of 'for sale' books: Cheever, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and a giant anthology of Japanese stories. I began reading Oh What a Paradise It Seems on a whim, but then I realized that beginning with a "lesser" work might be better in the long run. A natural inclination is to begin an introduction to a given writer with the most highly praised pieces, but what's the harm in beginning from the edges? If his other works do prove to be much better, then they may be that much more satisfying.

Oh What a Paradise It Seems is nothing if not ambitious, even for such a slim volume. It opens with Lemuel Sears, an older New York man taking a trip to the small mill town of Janice (named after the original mill owner's wife) to skate on Beasley's Pond. His daughter lives in the town, and Cheever sketches the surrounding areas with a mix of old-time nostalgia and then-contemporary observations (the town has no fast food restaurants due to a corporate computer glitch). Afterward, a vast assortment of subplots come into play: Beasley's Pond becomes an environmental dumping ground; Lemuel begins a torrid affair with a younger woman, a relationship highlighted by confusion, elusiveness, and a lead-in to a homosexual fling; and two of the families in Janice begin a feud that culminates into public showdowns. Major events are also presented, almost as asides: the murder of a dog, the accidental abandonment of a child, the murder of an environmental scientist, and acts of local terrorism. These are all blended into an otherwise standard narrative, which, given the plot points recapped above, may seem impossible, especially since the novella runs for only one hundred pages.

In addition to the numerous happenings, Cheever manages to expand upon various ideas, to the point of going off into wild tangents. None of them are exactly distracting, nor do they take away from the regular narrative; then again, with a close reading, a reader has to wonder where exactly Cheever intended to go with the narrator's hypotheses. The passage below is a good example. The book is rife with potentially biblical references, yet more often than not veer just slightly into other ideas.

"At the north end of the town was Beasley's Pond--a deep body of water, shaped like a bent arm, with heavily forested shores. Here were water and greenery, and if one were a nineteenth-century painter one would put into the foreground a lovely woman on a mule, bent a little over the child she held and accompanied by a man with a staff. This would enable the artist to label the painting 'Flight into Egypt,' although all he had meant to commemorate was his bewildering pleasure in a fine landscape on a summer's day (Cheever 4-5)."

There is undeniable beauty in the passages. The beauty of rural life is depicted with the sameness of urban life, and while this may seem like an obvious literary trope, Cheever handles it with careful phrases, and ultimately, both settings end up being equally critiqued and praised.

"The offices where she worked struck him as being characterized by a kind of netherness. They were on the nether floor of a nether building in a nether neighborhood, and when he entered the place he saw nothing that was not distinguished by its portability. The reception room decorated with a vast urn, filled with artificial grasses and weeds, the receptionist's desk, the receptionist herself all seemed highly mobile as if they could be moved, at short notice, to another building, another state or even another country (Cheever 13)."



With even the most basic knowledge of John Cheever's background, it's easy to see Lemuel Sears as an autobiographical reflection, and it's almost impossible not to be moved. In the years since Cheever's death, biographies and published letters have shown him to be conflicted by feelings of inadequacy, especially in his sexual makeup as a closeted bisexual. I have a tendency to mention this too often, but a rule of thumb is to never confuse the author with the text. However, given that Oh What a Paradise It Seems was composed near the end of Cheever's life, the text has potential insights into his state of mind, whether he expected it to be apparent or not. The textual sketches of homosexuality are outdated (the work was published in 1982), but seem consistent in attempts to explain it.

"Just following her to a table in a restaurant inaugurated an erotic competition that would leave the waiters, and any other players, obliged to dismiss Sears as an old man who, with his clothes off, would present nothing interesting but a costly wristwatch (Cheever 42)."

"'Your male lover is a traditional invention of the neurotic,' said Dr. Palmer. 'You have invented some ghostly surrogate of a lost school friend or a male relation from your early youth (Cheever 60).'"

Even with sometimes outdated reflections, Cheever does manage to create some very timely sketches, especially later in the novella. A hearing is set for the state of Beasley's Pond, and an argument erupts between the town's mayor and Chisholm, the environmental scientist. It's a strong balance of ideas, and mirrors today's political battle between environmental woes and a conservative political landscape. In one extended diatribe from the town's mayor, an entire cycle of American problems comes to light, and it's very tempting to visualize the mayor as a composite of today's GOP candidates. Perhaps I'm going out on a limb, literary-criticism wise, but the passage should back up this claim.

"'I haven't finished,' said the mayor. 'I've described this meeting as a courtesy, and I've encountered nothing but troublemakers. You, Mr. Chisholm, have, I happen to know, never served in the armed forces of your great country and you have no understanding, of course, of our wish to raise a memorial to our patriotic dead. You would like, I know, to prove that our fill in Beasley's Pond is comprised of leachates and contaminants. My father was an honest Yankee fisherman. He was a soldier. He was a patriot. He was a churchgoer. He was the husband of seven healthy and successful children. If I spoke to him about leachates and contaminants, he would tell me to speak English. 'This is the United States of America, my son,' he would say, 'and I want you to speak English.''Leachates' and 'contaminants' sound like a foreign language, and to bring governmental interference into our improvements of Beasley's Pond is like the work of a foreign government (Cheever 90).'"

I haven't touched upon the entirety of the plot, as I mentioned in the opening summary. None of the themes are loose ends; everything ties together, even if the ties are somewhat forced or rushed. Again, for all of this to be packed into a novella is a strong feat, but there are some limitations. Cheever keeps the scope of the work open to a diverse list of potential meanings, and even though there's value in the problems of the characters, there's a nagging sense of a writer, even one as prolific as Cheever, trying to do too much with limited space. It's easy to make assumptions, much like I did with the linking of possibly autobiographical themes. However, was this the work of someone who knew he was dying? Was it an attempt to create a small capsule of contemporary life? There is much to consider in the pages, but for me, satisfaction came from analyzing the themes individually, rather than as interlocking parts. Cheever's Wikipedia page states that the first reviewers praised the work with the understanding that Cheever was dying. With this in mind, the praise is warranted, not in a patronizing manner, but for the attempt to explore numerous sociological and psychological elements in a limited space. I'm going to return to his earlier works in the near future, and it should be fascinating to see the differences between the writer as a young man and the writer as someone making a final statement.

Work Cited:
Cheever, John. Oh What a Paradise It Seems. Copyright 1982 by John Cheever.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Film Stock: "Our Idiot Brother"



Jesse Peretz's Our Idiot Brother is one of the most genuinely enjoyable films to be released this summer. On the surface, this is an impressive feat, since the majority of the film is a mix of plot lines, characters, and developments that have been done numerous times, in a variety of ways, both good and bad. A family's black sheep member returns home and wreaks havoc. Seemingly successful people have problems and limitations. Integrity and success are found to be conflicting interests. Plot twists and climaxes can be seen a mile away. Now that these "faults" are out of the way, the positives come into focus. The truly "original" film is a rarity, so even with often-used tropes, good writing and acting are essential. Our Idiot Brother has both, and while it does have the occasional limitation, the actors make it extremely enjoyable.

Ned (Paul Rudd), is an eternally optimistic hippie, working with his girlfriend at a biodynamic farm. At a farmer's market, he listens to the pleas of a uniformed police officer and is duped into selling him weed, and thereby being arrested. After being released from jail, he goes back to the farm, only to find that his girlfriend has taken up with a new man and even keeps his dog out of spite. Believing that he needs to save up money to rent space in a goat farm on the property, Ned returns to his mother and sisters. Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a journalist for Vanity Fair, is on the verge of beginning her first major interview. Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is a spoken word performer, conflicted about her commitment to her girlfriend and her attraction to a young male painter. Liz (behind Rudd, Emily Mortimer has the best performance in this film) has two young children and is struggling with a strenuous, sexless marriage with Dylan (Steve Coogan), a snobby documentary filmmaker. Ned lives and interacts with all of his sisters for various lengths of time, and their desire to help him out leads to individual conflicts. He gets along fabulously with his nephew, but Liz and Dylan look down upon Ned's influence, especially since they're trying to raise an impossibly cultured child. His complete honesty leads to tension between Miranda and her unspoken love for her neighbor, Jeremy. A misunderstanding about Natalie's confession to her girlfriend completes the family's strain. When added to his ex-girlfriend's stubbornness and an off-hand remark to his probation officer, Ned must use his simple life philosophies to help bring closure and understanding to everyone.

For a long time, I've believed that Paul Rudd is one of the most underrated actors working today, and a testament to his skills is his ability to help elevate what could be substandard material. A role as an optimistic hippie has unbelievable potential for hamming, yet Rudd manages to make Ned lovable and, most importantly, believable. Even in the most dire circumstances, none of his actions are malicious. Honesty is his best policy, and his lack of living in a regular day-to-day world is his only fault. He is continually called out on his openness, but his comments and interactions are genuine; usually, when a film character is described as "brutally honest," that means dick jokes or mean-spirited dialogue in inappropriate scenarios. Ned just wants to foster open communications, and he doesn't live life as a means to hiding true beliefs. He's not a man-child, either. His interactions with his nephew are the few times that the child is able to act like a regular kid, and in the film's biggest outburst, Ned puts his sisters in their place, showing an understanding of their situations that belies his usual goofiness. With a warm smile or an understated piece of dialogue, Paul Rudd makes Ned a combination of excellent qualities, just in the wrong situations.

The roles of Miranda, Natalie, and Liz are very strong, but also seem to be heavily influenced by the films of Woody Allen. On the surface, these are stock female characters: the career woman (Miranda), the creative younger sister (Natalie), and the modern mother (Liz). Add Dylan, the cheating, conniving brother-in-law, and the women in Our Idiot Brother could be a mixture of the women in Hannah and Her Sisters and Interiors. During one of the film's climactic scenes, the three sisters sit down with the intention of discussing Liz's predicament, and it turns into an argument over their personalities. It's a relatively tame scene, but does mirror some of the dialogues Allen has employed in his earlier works. These are not rip-offs at all, and are too fine-tuned to be coincidental. If the sisters were intended to work as a homage to Allen, it works quite well. (Note: the following hypothesis is not mine, but an extension of a point made by my friend Eric) Natalie's bisexuality, and Ned's comic interaction between a sexually open couple are important plot points, but are also admirable uses of homosexuality in a manner that doesn't make the sexual orientation itself the butt of any jokes, but rather, like all sex and comedy, it leads to extensive comedic scenarios. Woody Allen has been criticized for the lack of gay characters in his film worlds, so it's a commendable nod to Our Idiot Brother's writers. The film works as nod to another screenwriter, but with their own flourishes.



The film was written by Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall, and the two have done an admirable job. The transition between the comedic and the dramatic is sometimes uneven, and while none of the conflicts are left unresolved, Our Idiot Brother ends obviously, with seemingly happy endings for all of the characters. However, going back to my opening, everything is handled well. Even with shaky transitions and closure, the resolutions aren't preachy or insulting. The dramatic scenes are not overdone, and the comedy never veers into unnecessary gross-out humor or slapstick. The funniest lines in the film are the most casually uttered ones, and are only quotable to people who have seen the film. A common mistake with novice screenwriters is the belief that humor has to be obvious or highlighted; here, it's blended and occasionally requires attention to pick up on the nuances. Therefore, the writers do a fine balancing act, making the rare unrealistic scenes seem plausible. Nothing is overdone, and for first-time screenwriters, everything is handled well. Peretz doesn't add any flourishes to his direction, but sometimes the best directing is the type that isn't immediately noticeable. The script and the actors handle the work, and there's no need for any obvious cinematography or flashy camerawork.

Our Idiot Brother is a highlight for everyone involved. Rudd continues to be enjoyable and charming, and can elevate even a terrible movie (which this is not). I've always enjoyed Elizabeth Banks, and her acting, like that of Rudd, is a continually strong balance between playful and serious. Is this the best comedy ever made? No, but it doesn't need to be. The diverse cast does exactly what's needed, and the film could even reveal more comedic highlights after multiple viewings. It's an excellent example of an above average film that gets the most out of average expectations, therefore being entertaining without stooping to insult the audience or relying on stupidity for laughs. It's been playing for a week and might need time for more word-of-mouth recommendations. I highly recommend it for people who enjoy smart comedies. People who go into it expecting stupidity and obvious laughs? They'll be very pleasantly surprised.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Colophon: A Newspaper For Stories We Found On the Web




For the last two months, I've been co-editing Instafiction.org, a collection of web-based short stories designed for daily weekday feeds, compatible with storage devices such as Instapaper, mobile devices/e-readers, and updated via the site, Twitter, and Facebook. I wrote a brief introductory piece during our official launch, and I've had the details listed to your right in the sidebar. We've developed a small, yet enthusiastic following, and various literary magazines and authors have supported our project. While we are chugging along, we decided to see if we couldn't experiment with a new format as a way to support writers.

Jeremy Bushnell came up with the idea of creating a newspaper version of some of the Instafiction stories. Our site is possible because of the digital transformation, but there is simply no denying that reading on paper is its own aesthetic pleasure. No matter how much they try, the creators of e-reading devices can never truly replicate the feel of a printed page. To make this project more feasible, Jeremy created a video and page with Kickstarter, a website that allows people to pitch creative projects in the interest of gaining financial backing. If we can raise enough money, our limited-run newspaper will be called Colophon. The complete page of details can be found here.

So yes, this is a plea for both donations and for spreading the word. Yes, this is a world of tight finances. However, one can donate a little as $1, yet, as the page explains, the more you donate, the more you'll receive. Most importantly, if we can raise $1,000 by October 2nd, not only will we be able to see this project to completion, but some of the finances will go toward the authors who have been featured in Instafiction thus far. So if this sounds promising, make a donation. The closing paragraph of the Kickstarter page sums this up nicely:

"With a dose of support from even a small group of enthusiastic readers, we can get it done. For as low as just $20, you can get a copy of the completed paper. Whatever proceeds remain once we pay Newspaper Club and our Kickstarter/Amazon fees will be split evenly, with half going to cover the ongoing costs of the Instafiction.org project and half going to support the hardworking authors who agree to let us print their work. The more money we raise, the more money the authors will receive.
We hope you’ll consider helping us to make something really cool happen. Thanks!"