Thursday, May 14, 2009

Stories - 140 characters at a time

Can you distill a story to the size of a phone? That's the idea behind cellphone novels:
The cellphone grows more wondrous and indispensable to us every day. Talking is the least of it. We text and Tweet our heads off, send photos, watch TV shows, play video games. But in Japan, imperium of the future where all the above is old hat, the keitai (cellphone) has further spawned a wildly successful, populist fiction genre. Keitai shosetsu, the so-called cellphone novel, has been touted (in the pages of the New Yorker, among other places) and reviled (by Japanese literati) as the first narrative mode of the txt msg age -- the herald of a written-word future bent by wireless telecom's powers.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dying for art's sake

Richard North Patterson, prolific writer of thrillers, has written a novel based on the wrongful conviction and execution of Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Mr. Saro-Wiwa, a popular author who helped create a peaceful mass movement on behalf of the Ogoni people, was executed in November 1995 along with eight other environmental and human rights activists on what many contended were trumped-up murder charges. His body was burned with acid and thrown in an unmarked grave.

. . .

Fourteen years have passed. General Abacha has died, and Mr. Saro-Wiwa has had a proper burial, but the circumstances surrounding the nine executions, along with related incidents of brutal attacks and torture, are getting another hearing. This month the Wiwa family’s lawsuit against Royal Dutch Shell over its role in those events goes to trial in federal court in Manhattan.

Fiction International's recent theme, The Artist in Wartime, asked artists to write about war and other opressive acts of tyrants. Mr. Saro-Wiwa died because his writings provoked the ultimate in corporate/polifical tyranny. Can you, as an artist, be as brave?

Watch an interview of Richard North Patterson as he describes how he chose Mr. Saro-Wiwa as a subject for Eclipse. Oh, and enjoy the Chevron commercial that begins the Patterson interview.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Fact or fiction?

Writing in The Independent, Tom Sutcliffe asks the question: Did you love the whaling bits in Moby Dick or find them a tedious ordeal?

I found them an ordeal, actually, and tend to skip what Sutcliffe calls the facts in fiction. The reason? Cynicism. I don't read fiction to read a recitation of facts. Details about how to kill a whale don't need to be factual -- plus it might encourage someone to do it, or think it's an activity that's worthwhile to do. Such "factualism" in fiction encourages behavior which ought to be discouraged -- like enlisting in the military so you can accurately describe what it feels like to kill another person.

Coincidentally, I also tend to skip the fiction in the (supposedly) factual or, as it is known, "New Journalism," which proved to be so successful that some journalists began writing the fictional elements of a story then looked for facts to fit the story -- and we were fed stories about crack babies and a fake addiction.

Don't get me wrong: I love both fiction and nonfiction writing. I just prefer them "separated," like the food on a child's plate. Otherwise the facts stall the narrative thrust and "journalists" lets words sell lies.