Some Take-Aways from Twitter’s Fiction Festival

As promised in last week’s post on Twitter’s Fiction Festival, here’s a round up of a few standouts of the online event, which finished this past Sunday.

Four things I took away from the festival, besides learning how to read from the ground up:

1. My personal favorite was Andrew Pyper’s sinister adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic horror novel The Turn of the Screw. Only downside, should blare a massive SPOILER ALERT banner at the top of the account page. Do not ruin this story for yourself by reading the first few tweets! Scroll straight to the bottom of “White House”, which you can read in full here. #socreepy

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2. Another fantastic creative endeavor was writer Lucy Coats’ retelling of 100 myths in 100 tweets. Check out this pithy (and alliterative) summary of Odysseus’ encounter with the sirens, below:

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You can find a collection of many more of her mythical re-imaginings, including the tales of Leda and the Swan and Heracles, at her twitter account here. #pervyancientgreeks

3. Elliott Holt’s mystery tale had an interesting twist to it. The story was made up of tweets from a crowd of partygoers, unambiguous as to whether what they witnessed was a suicide, an accident, or murder.

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The multiple voices create an interesting, interwoven narration. Plus the self-centeredness and banality with which these characters tweet spins an interesting satire on the way we present our lives online for others’ amusement and approval. I think. Scroll down Holt’s twitter page to read this very interesting and suspenseful form of the classic murder mystery. #likecluebutbetter

4. Twit-Lit-Crit: so now that we have twitterature changing the form of storytelling, will literary criticism follow in the same vein? Carmel Doohan of Exeunt Magazine conveyed a critique of the weekend via a series of tweets, just like the authors had done themselves:

Essentially a blank page where any text or format can be uploaded, @storify makes a bricolage of social media.

On it the twitter fiction works, but when encountered on twitter itself it is frustrating; interruptions and RTs spoil the flow

Yet there is something very modernist about it- interruptions incorporated into the fiction; remaining true to the fragmentation of reality

Even the Guardian jumped into the fray, doling out self-effacing reviews in under 140 characters.

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It makes me wonder, like Doohan asks, “will the twitter essay forever change the face of criticism? Answers on a postcard.”

Did you have time to check out the Twitter Fiction Festival? If so, what were your take-aways?


Happy Birthday, Roald Dahl–Magic Man and Peter Pan

“The matter with human beans,” the BFG went on, “is that they is absolutely refusing to believe in anything unless they is actually seeing it right in front of their own schnozzles”–The BFG

My childhood would have been so barren were it not for the words of Roald Dahl, and, of course, the whimsical scribbles by Quentin Blake that always accompanied them. The BFGThe WitchesGeorge’s Marvelous MedicineMatilda… I, like children generations before and after me, devoured these stories, more ravenous than Augustus Gloop at a certain chocolate factory. Inevitably, Dahl became my very first favorite author. Today, on what would have marked this exceptional man’s 96th birthday, a look back at the gifts he left to children’s and adult’s literature alike, through the eyes of one who read them…

When I first discovered Roald Dahl’s stories, I knew only of his illustrated children’s books. Even in that genre, his imagination was unparalleled; I pored over tales of a friendly giant, an enormous peach, a magical spell that makes tortoises grow, and a marvelous medicine. They were like nursery rhymes and fairy tales, only better–the kind where the wicked stepsisters would have their feet lopped off before being squeezed into the glass slipper, or where Little Red turns out to be a carnivorous villainess, whipping the wolf into a fur coat faster than the glint off a big bad tooth. The proper kind.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you”–The Witches

A little older, I turned to Dahl’s autobiography, Boy: Tales of Childhood. Excerpts like “The Great Mouse Plot of 1924″ (in which Dahl and his boyhood friends place a dead mouse in a jar of gobstoppers belonging to the “loathsome” local sweet shop owner, Mrs. Pratchett) appealed to my youthful mischief-making, but the beatings and loneliness he described of boarding school sealed serious adults as the true villains of life. It became clear where the monsters behind Ms. Trunchbull and The Witches came from.

And still, my ideas of Roald Dahl evolved as I grew older. There were entire collections of macabre short stories I hadn’t been allowed to touch–“The Great Automatic Grammatizator,” “Man From the South,” “Royal Jelly.” All deserve to be read beneath the sheets with a flashlight and a pair of trembling hands. The messy ends of Dahl’s characters and the shocking twists he wove give Poe’s horror stories a run for their money, any day.

To his young readers, Dahl is like a childhood friend, a comrade in the denial to abandon whimsy in exchange for seriousness. Even in his own life, Roald Dahl seemed a sort of Peter Pan figure; a WWII fighter pilot turned MI6 spy, he crossed the globe like a classic adventurer, passing through exotic locations like Tanzania, Kenya, Egypt, Libya, and Iraq, of which he wrote about in another autobiography, Going Solo. As an undercover agent he rubbed elbows with fellow spy (and James Bond creator) Ian Fleming. Rumor has it they were commissioned to woo foreign diplomats’ lonely wives in search of secret information. At times, his life seems the work of pure fantasy.

“A Message to Children Who Have Read This Book – When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important: a stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY”–Danny, the Champion of the World

In later years, Dahl took to using a colorful gypsy wagon, parked on his back lawn, as his writing space. From there he wrote more children’s fiction, like Danny, the Champion of the World and The Twits. He continued to turn out popular children’s stories right up to his death in 1990, at the age of 74. It’s from his posthumously published final work, The Minpins, that I take this passage, one of the quotes that seems to best epitomize the author’s views on fantasy and life:

Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.

To have grown up with Roald Dahl is to have never truly grown up. Here’s hoping we never have to.

Happy Birthday Roald Dahl!

As an extra treat, here’s an interview Dahl gave shortly before his death. In it, he describes the riveting story of his entry into literature.


New Fiction by… F. Scott Fitzgerald?

We already know that most, if not all, of the world’s most celebrated writers had their fair share of rejection before shooting to literary fame. It comes as no surprise, then, that F. Scott Fitzgerald, writer of The Great Gatsby, was at one point turned away by such an elite publication as The New Yorker.

Back in 1936, before Fitzgerald was a household name but eleven years after the publication of his most famous work, he was turned away for a short story titled “Thank You for the Light.” It’s a “mildly fantastical” piece about a traveling saleswoman addicted to cigarettes, desperate to smoke in a disapproving town. The subject matter and tone of the work was slightly our of character for Fitzgerald, as The New Yorker staff’s reaction shows.

The magazine wrote in an internal message that it was “altogether out of the question. It seems to us so curious and so unlike the kind of thing we associate with him and really too fantastic.”

Not having seen the light of day since that rejection, the story has been given a second chance by the publication thanks to a fateful turn of events. While clearing the vault for a Sotheby’s auction of Fitzgerald’s works, his grandchildren discovered this secret story for the first time. Advised by Fitzgerald scholar James West, they resubmitted it to the magazine. Thankfully, this time it was accepted.

An entertaining and quick read, “Thank you for the Light” appears in The New Yorker‘s August 6th issue, and can be read online here.


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