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Books Mon Jun 10 2013

Anobium Press Seeks Writers for Two New Projects

Anobium, an alternative Chicago-based press, is seeking writers to participate in two upcoming projects that explore the potential of creative collaboration. The first of these projects, based in Chicago though open to writers worldwide, is Middle Ground. The collaborative project is dedicated to the exploration of space, our experience of environments both virtual and actual, and the way in which such spaces inform the written word.

Anobium Editor Benjamin van Loon describes the process in his own words: “So you have a location: Middle Inlet, Wisconsin. Writer 1 will write up to 500 words about Middle Inlet, and then he/she will move onto a different ‘location,’ where 500-some words have already been written by a different writer. At the same time, a different writer will be visiting Middle Inlet, Wisconsin, adding up to 500 more words to Writer 1’s original text. Make sense? So for Middle Ground, we have a target of 15 participants, which means 15 locations. It would be impossible for all writers to visit all places, so each writer will be visiting five places, such that at the end of the project, each text written about each place will be around 2,500 words, compiled by five people. It’s like we’re all taking turns.

“The best analogy I have is this. Let’s say we’re on a tour bus. We stop at a roadside bathroom somewhere, and each of us has a big, fat permanent marker. Bathroom User 1 uses the stall, and in his/her boredom, writes ‘SLAYER RULES’ on the bathroom wall. Bathroom User 2 uses the stall next, and in his/her boredom, adds ‘THE UNDERWORLD’ to BU1’s graffiti. Bathroom User 3 uses the stall next, and he/she is kind of a prude, so he/she strikes through ‘S̶L̶A̶Y̶E̶R̶ ̶R̶U̶L̶E̶S̶ ̶T̶H̶E̶ ̶U̶N̶D̶E̶R̶W̶O̶R̶L̶D̶’ and writes ‘Stop drawing on bathroom walls.’ And so on and so forth.”

The second project, which will be based in New York, is Rescriptions II. A reincarnation of a previous project, Rescriptions is dedicated to the revival of lost stories through the injection of fresh perspectives. The process is simple: each writer brings to the group an old, tired story; one that doesn’t seem to be working. That story is handed to a second writer, whose task is to enhance and embellish the story’s strengths. After Writer 2 has tweaked the piece, it is passed along to Writer 3, Writer 4, Writer 5 and so on. By project’s end, the once-washed-up story is alive with the varied styles of a multi-minded author.

I had the opportunity to ask Mr. van Loon a few questions about both projects, and gain insight on the value of collaboration, the importance of place, and why you should get involved.

I cannot count the number of old, forgotten stories I have that could use Rescription’s resuscitation (as I know is the case with many of my peers). Have you ever considered expanding that project to include more writers/ create some kind of permanent web community for up-cycling stories?

That’s always been a consideration. When Anobium did Rescription I in Chicago, there was actually a much larger response from people in ‘remote’ (non-Chicago) locations. It portended well, I thought, and that positive response was partly what suggested to me that a collaborative writing project intentionally involving a larger area would be something well-received. And this has proven to be true.

For setting up something like this permanently, there is probably a way to do that. I can already see the mechanics of it in my mind, and if I didn’t have a day job, and if I wasn’t planning on returning to school in the fall, and if I wasn’t working so hard to watch through the entire X-Files series (counting the movies), I’d be all over that, as the kids say.

With regards to Middle Ground, why did you choose place as opposed to, say, person, or idea? Is this project influenced by the upswing in popularity of the local/small business over national/chain?

This was actually a conversation I had with group co-creator Pat Chesnut (Rescription Project participant and editor of The Bad Version). We were trying to think of what makes a good story, at least these days. Is it good characters, or good places? That’s a very simplistic view, I think, but begs the question: to what extent does a place make its people? Think of all the ways people pit Chicagoans against New Yorkers, for example. Plus, if we’re talking about writing collaboratively, I think that X-number of people writing about a single place would cohere better than that same number of people writing about a single person. We did also think about writing about ideas, but the fear was that idea-writing would get too abstract. Not that there’s anything wrong with abstraction, but in writing about ‘place,’ we can at least be assured that we’re all thinking of a somewhat similar thing: a town, a park, a school, a bar—whatever.

Regarding the last part of your question: maybe, on a subconscious level. Anobium, intentionally or not, usually veers away from staking any kind of conscious political claim in its literary pursuits. I like to think of what we’re doing here as purely aesthetic. Politicizing things often precludes humor, which is desperately missing from today’s so-called literary and artistic scene. Nothing beats a good scat joke.

Middle Ground emphasizes the boundary between real and virtual place, and our ability in the modern age to explore both. When it comes to creative production, do you see the at-your-fingertips availability of information that the internet offers as detrimental, advantageous, or both?

Our psychic relationship with technology has always been interesting to me, philosophically. This at-your-fingertips availability of information and intelligence—the Googleability of all knowledge—is one of the greatest benefits of the Information Age. No longer do bar-room bickerings need to devolve into ad homonym—if there’s a disagreement about this-or-that, you can Google it. Or if you’re visiting a new location or city, you can check out a street view of the neighborhood to get an idea of what to expect once you’re actually there. This at-your-fingertipsness is extremely convenient. But it also lends to a certain homogenization of that knowledge. For example: I’ve never been to Dallas. I can read about Dallas on Wikipedia, I can Google ‘Dallas ghost stories,’ I can look at crime stats for Dallas, I can e-cruise downtown with Google Street View, I can look at census data—and I can put together a fairly accurate ‘picture’ of what Dallas is without ever having been there. But whatever ‘picture’ I arrive at has ultimately been compiled through formulae. I can pick any place, use the same devices and Internet research tactics, and compile a fairly accurate picture of that place. This is what I mean by homogeneity. This ‘fairly accurate picture’ is ‘fairly accurate’ strictly because it’s so homogenous.

But the other side of this, what does it mean to actually ‘be’ somewhere, or ‘experience’ a certain place? Does the Internet simply expose the artifice of our so-called ‘real life’ experience? Or is the homogeneity of Internet-accrued knowledge exactly like the real thing? If it’s not, then what makes the real thing different? That’s what Middle Ground intends to explore.

Writing is traditionally thought of as a solitary practice, but both these projects discard the singularity of authorship in favor of collaborative, layered work. What is the advantage, in your opinion, of communal creation? Do you feel that the accessibility of community via the internet may cause a paradigm shift towards communal work as a norm?

I think communal/collaborative writing, with the right controls, provides a welcome break to the solitary tedium of the ‘traditional’ writing process. From a ‘creative writing’ perspective, I’ve found that this change in pace has the possibility to inject new life into my own traditional writing process; it changes the tenor of my solitude. I think writing will always ultimately be solitary, but to augment that solitary writing practice with a collaborative experience can benefit your writing universally.

To what extent is consistency a concern when it comes to communal work?

It’s not a concern for me. But here we think of aesthetics again: I like off-the-wall literature and art, as long it’s not off-the-wall for the sake of being off-the-wall. That’s why Middle Ground has controls (word count limits, contingency on place, anonymity, etc.); it provides context for being off-the-wall. The controls provide the consistency. If there were no controls at all, then there’d be nothing to cohere the experiment, and we’d end up with something like a cut-up book version of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the Eighth Dimension (but, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing…).

Anything else you’d like potential writers and readers to know about the project?

Everyone is invited! We still have spots open! You don’t need to ‘know a guy,’ you don’t need an MFA, you don’t need full use of your legs, you don’t need to bring appetizers, you don’t need to know what The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is. Come one, come all.

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