Pulitzer winner to publish new story, one tweet at a time
By Doug Gross, CNN
(CNN) – At first blush, it sounds like a torturous way to read an 8,500-word short story. But in a nod to the social media age, The New Yorker is offering up new fiction on Twitter in a series of 140-character bursts.
“Black Box,” a new story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan, was to begin appearing on the New Yorker Fiction Twitter account Thursday at 8 p.m. A single line will be published every minute for the next hour, then from 8-9 p.m. on each of the following nine nights, through June 2.
While waiting for new snippets might not sound like the most fun way to consume a story, lovers of the written word can take some solace in the fact that Egan, no stranger to nontraditional storytelling, wrote “Black Box” with Twitter in mind.
Egan’s 2010 novel, “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award. “Black Box,” she says, takes a character from that book and tells a “spy-thriller” version of her tale.
“This is not a new idea, of course, but it’s a rich one — because of the intimacy of reaching people through their phones, and because of the odd poetry that can happen in 140 characters,” she said in a New Yorker post about the experiment. “I found myself imagining a series of terse mental dispatches from a female spy of the future, working undercover by the Mediterranean Sea. I wrote these bulletins by hand in a Japanese notebook that had eight rectangles on each page.”
Egan said the story was originally twice its present length and that she spent about a year writing and revising it — using Twitter’s character-counting tool to make sure the final lines would make the cut.
As Egan’s statement suggests, she’s not the first to tackle fiction on Twitter and other digital short forms.
In Japan, “keitai shousetsu,” or “cellphone novels” written in the form of text messages, have become perennial best-sellers since originating in the early 2000s.
In 2008, Penguin Books launched the “We Tell Stories” project in which six of its authors used interactive media, including Twitter, to tell new tales. (One, Toby Litt’s “Slice,” was told as a series of blog posts and tweets from the story’s main character and her parents).
And in 2009, author and noted Twitter-phile Neil Gaiman worked with BBC Audiobooks on an interactive novel built from tweets.
Egan is no stranger to nontraditional approaches to writing herself.
“Goon Squad” hovers somewhere between being a novel and a series of related short stories about an aging music-industry executive and other rock ‘n’ roll characters. In it, one chapter appears as a PowerPoint presentation.
In July, The Guardian printed Egan’s “To Do,” a short story told as a seemingly innocuous list of chores.
Call “Black Box” gimmicky if you like, but you can’t claim it’s just Egan wanting to screw around on Twitter. She has an account, but before two tweets promoting Thursday’s serialization, she’d only posted four times since signing up in 2010.
And fear not if you can’t stand the thought of reading a story tucked into your Twitter feed (of, for that matter, if you can’t stand the thought of Twitter).
The New Yorker will be publishing a daily summary of the story-so-far on its Page Turner fiction blog. The story also will appear in its entirety in the venerable magazine’s upcoming science-fiction issue.