So, I’ve been reading this great book, Richie. In fact, I’ve been reading it along with over sixteen hundred other people. For free. On Twitter. Yes, anyone who knows me and technology will gaffaw.
Obviously I blog, but it’s something I’ve come very late to (I’m sure Jeff could fill you in on the joys of trying to e-tutor me through WordPress 101). I ‘facebook’ also, for the primary reason that it keeps me in touch with the Melbourne Spoken Word community and relatives overseas. But I’ve been asking myself for the past six months what hell Twitter is all about. I mean what, people really want to know what I’m doing at the exact time I’m doing it, even if I’m blind drunk and eating fruit toast while riding a wild donkey or about to die of a heart attack on a free-falling plane above Mexico? Or more to the point, do I really want mostly-total-strangers to know if I’m blind drunk or on a free-falling plane above Mexico?. But then again, that’s what I said about facebook, initially.
So I was stunned to recently discover some of the most captivating writing I’ve thus encountered online in the form of Richie, a Twitter Novel (in progress). I stumbled upon fragments of Richie on New York Writer Jason Gusmann’s fictional mixtape blog several months ago (as these blog things happen, I found fictional mixtape via a click-through on Brisbane writer Paul Squires’ gingatao).
To date, Gusmann has over 1600 readers/followers of the Ritchie on Twitter. By way of the novel’s subject matter, the author explains:
Richie and Dee Dee are a couple of lonely, socially-maladjusted criminals living in a new-age reformatory called Fairview. So, naturally, the novel is about their friendship, or what passes for friendship between them, and how they chafe under the new brand of soft controls employed by their kinder, gentler jailers. However, it’s also about past lives, school shootings, the generational impact of technology, love surviving outside of time, and the disappearance of firsthand experience. But it’s funny, too…like Dostoevsky via the Breakfast Club.
I have to say, by way of author-spruik, that’s a fairly accurate summary.
One of the things that really struck me about Richie is how appropriate the writing style is to the Twitter format. Take this instalment from the classroom scene in Chapter One of Richie:
the richie kid folds his arms
leather jacket creaks which i
think is cool i want one
Or the vivid cafè scene in Chapter Three:
next day lunch the cafeterias
weird cuz its like a
combination of like
spaceport and french bistro
its all like domed glass
windows and colored tubes
and little round tables each
with room for four white
//but i think the ambience is
kind of lost on the delinquents
that eat in here//
i always end up eating with
this black kid with one glass
eye who never talks to
Of course, the adaptation of the standard novel to new electronic and digital delivery formats is by no means a new phenomenon, and Gusmann himself is unsurprisingly a fan of the cell phone novel, for many reasons:
I actually started writing the story of Richie and Dee Dee in a totally conventional manner (i.e. regular sentence/paragraph/quote structure) and it just felt really unsatisfying even though I knew early on I was in love with the characters. I was a little over 100 pages in when I discovered the keitai shosetsu, or “cell phone novel”, format. If you aren’t familiar, around the turn of the century (2000, not 1900) a whole bunch of Asian kids started writing novels on their cell phones and posting the results in a serialized format on sites like Maho i-Rando. I loved the grassroots publishing aspect of it, but more important for me was the layout: 140 character blocks of text arranged vertically like individual stanzas or truncated haiku. With the format change came changes in tense (past to present) and narrators (omniscient to the first person Dee Dee) that weren’t necessarily dictated by the format, but ended up a far better fit for the story. Once the form solidified, posting serially on Twitter was a natural fit: although the bottom-to-top posting is not the most convenient way to read a novel, it doesn’t affect my fragmented text-bursts as much as others’, and it more than makes up for any inconvenience in pure foot traffic.
I’m now coming around to the Twitter’s literary potential, particularly as a poet .Interestingly though, when I request a bio from Gusmann, he lists one of his aspirations as publishing a print version of the novel which is fast becoming a Twitter sensation.
Jason Gusmann, the author of Richie, is a New York born writer who hates control systems, jobs that drug test, diabetes, the death of sincerity, and “mean people”.