Wednesday, September 10, 2014

It Takes a Village: A Storytelling Experiment Utilizing Social Media

Beginning on June 23rd, eleven participants ranging from established novelists and instructors to newly published writers, started taking turns telling one story through Twitter posts.  The activity, coined ‘Twitter Tales’, is a storytelling experiment that means to further define the role of social media in the writer’s life; addressing opposing beliefs, questions and myths. What we’ve discovered thus far dispels some commonly held views and forges new ones while raising questions about further possibilities. We will be sharing more about our revelations on this wild ride of creativity, but this post will introduce the players, the story and the start of our pioneering adventure.

So how did we end up in a 1920s LA noir? None of us rightly know. It happened along the way. That’s what is so fascinating about this whole endeavor. Yet perhaps it would be right to say that the story and the idea of the activity, all began with the original trouble-maker that had to go asking questions, researching and gathering recruits to investigate the idea of social media for writers. Not content with the conflicting information, the lack of available statistics and unexplored territories, she felt compelled to go on a crusade for answers to bring back for her readers. That fiery dame and her brazen ideas.  I’m sure it’s no mystery who that troublesome broad is. (I just wish you’d pretended to wait a few moments longer to pin it on me.) Once I had my accomplices, I came up with 4 posts for the others to vote on as a beginning. There were no dictates or restraints on genre or premise. This was the winner:  "A key, a ring, a license plate; all metal, all evidence of life, all that was left in the end. The element deemed 'the decline of matter.'"

We would each be moving this story forward one post, one turn at a time. It seemed that we could ‘play God’ in 140 characters or less. What we started to discover, however, is that this story had its own momentum and was teaching us as we went. The story formed a particular voice early on, despite 11 varied writers driving it. Though the story is now a 20s noir and has clear elements of that genre, it still transcends it with a contemplative literary tone. While checking that the story is historically accurate, what was interesting, is that the research for location, transportation and communication (telephone direct dial service) coincided with what we’d already written.

One writer was given a book on the 1920s as a gift right before the story landed in that time period. Another who hadn’t yet taken their first turn, said that they had family in the LA area at that time. When making an example art set to accompany the story on a digital collage site (more on the art component in posts to come), I chose a French song to play in the background for its sound. What I realized when I translated the lyrics was that it fit the characters’ feelings perfectly at that point in the story and I hadn’t known that ahead of time. Beyond the serendipity at work, a theme behind our magazine itself, we learned about ourselves and our roles.

As the complexity in the story arc rose, minute details of dates, objects, actions and emotional ties carried added weight. The dynamic challenge increases to cohesively construct the story 140 characters at a time, building upon one another’s words. The story’s life depends on how well we can all work together and as a result, it’s no longer about personal motivation deciding our course, but rather the needs of the story. We’re developing each other’s leads, solving each other’s mysteries and supporting each other’s paths. Writing is deemed an isolating profession—said to be even more so in the digital age. We create alone, we wrestle our own inner egos and censors. We are accountable to ourselves and make all the decisions. The work’s victories and struggles are individual.

Yet here, it’s all about coming together to do what we can and must to make our story survive and thrive. Like the game of Trust, we step in when it’s our turn, then let go and trust that the person following behind will securely catch what we’ve placed in their arms. There can be inherent challenges in this (both fun challenges that inspire and challenges that push us, adapting on our feet mid-sprint). With our great team, we are working collectively to craft a great story and share all that we’ve discovered. Isolated by writing? Nope. Isolated by technology? No—brought together. We’re putting the ‘social’ in social media.

The Story

Beginning: “A key, a ring, a license plate; all metal, all evidence of life, all that was left in the end. The element deemed ‘the decline of matter.’"

Charles Salzberg: That's all I had to work with. I've had less which turned out to be more than enough. 1st step: Find the lock the key fit. #TwitterTales

Diane McDonough: I had to get a grip & mourn later, forging those metals-ring, key, license plate-into armor that would shield me from all this. #TwitterTales

Jackie Dawn: Still, old memories were like old habits. I rolled the ring across my palm & remembered his words as he slipped it on my finger. #TwitterTales

Joseph Barro: My mind raced. My ears bled in a deafening ring. My vision returning more clearly. The plate read: CA. The date...could it be? #TwitterTales

Linda Emma: Impossible. Unrelated,yet totally relevant? How could its expiration be the same as his: April 18, 1923 #twittertales

Martin Crosbie: I grabbed the key. It was time to go back to the beginning, time to remember what he'd told me, time to finally seek the truth #TwitterTales

Pat Greene: Right then it hit me - how many truths or even lies like this had he kept from me? Had I known Mark at all? The phone rang #TwitterTales

Rochelle Shapiro: “Hello?” “Is Mark there?” a woman said. “Who is this?” I said. “Mark’s wife,” she said. I was silent as Theda Bara on screen. #TwitterTales

Stephanie Haddad: I had so many questions, but could only manage an “Oh?” I wanted to scream. But this woman was the only avenue toward answers. #TwitterTales

Terin Tashi Miller: "Mark's not here. He's gone." I said. It was true. "How did you get this number?" I had to keep her on the line. I had to. #TwitterTales

NMB: Don’t be coy. I know who you are. I don’t really concern myself with my husband’s dalliances or whereabouts. I want the key. #TwitterTales

Charles Salzberg: What makes you think I have the key? Even if I did, why would I give it to you? Perhaps we should meet and maybe work this out.#TwitterTales

Diane McDonough: Alright. But know that I hired a private eye and I have pictures that I’ll take to the FBI unless I get the key. Understand? #TwitterTales

Jackie Dawn: “Fine,” I said, though belief was shallow. “Meet me at the sign.” “Sign?” She asked. “Don't feign ignorance. You know which one.” #TwitterTales

Joseph Barro: The line disconnected. Headlights appeared through the canyon mist. A yellow cab? I froze. Run? I walked casually to the road. #TwitterTales

Linda Emma: Time to confront this hired PI. Even if those photos could topple an empire. It was just a house of cards – flimsy as the sign #TwitterTales

Martin Crosbie: He was from the old neighborhood, I knew him. With his rumpled coat + eleven-o’clock leer he was calling himself a PI now. #TwitterTales

Pat Greene: "When I saw the cab, I guessed that her PI had followed me here to Hollywoodland, but I never thought he would be you, John. #TwitterTales"

Rochelle Shapiro: "Marion, I know what happened to Mark. Get in." #Twittertales

Stephanie Haddad: My breath caught. Await an angry woman or trust a man I couldn’t trust. Old flames will be my downfall. I ducked into the cab. #twittertales

Terin Tashi Miller: I slid in the cab next to John. His hand rested on top of mine. Slowly, he turned my hand over. "Did you bring the key?" #TwitterTales

NMB: “Marion, I’m taking you to the bank right now.You’re going to open that safety deposit box.You’ll never have him or the money.”#TwitterTales

To be continued…  Find out what happens to contemplative, sophisticated Marion, discover what Mark was up to and whether he’s dead or alive! (It seems a number of readers, etc. want his character to have been killed off, but you’ll just have to see.)

See new posts as we continue through the story arc and all of the posts thus far on Twitter @WriteplcWritetm. You can also read the story on Facebook through our page and the Twitter event page (updates are posted every three turns):

Read about the thrilling visual arts component involving the digital collage site Polyvore in an upcoming post.  A contest between two art groups was held for two weeks during which time artistically inclined users were encouraged to create art sets inspired by the first eleven individual Twitter posts from the story. The results from this synergistic combination of talented writers and amazing artists have been nothing short of awe-inspiring and the reaction from entrants around the world was profound. Well over 100 Polyvore art sets were entered with enthusiasm, creative passion, emotion and dedication.

The Players

Charles Salzberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Esquire, GQ, New York Magazine, the New York Times and other periodicals. He is the author or co-author of more than 25 non-fiction books. His novel, Swann's Last Song, was nominated for a Shamus Award. He has also written a sequel, Swann Dives In, and the third in the series, Swann's Lake of Despair will be published in October. His latest novel, Devil in the Hole, was named one of the set crime novels of the year by Suspense magazine. He has been a Visiting Professor of Magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and he teaches writing at the Writer's Voice and the New York Writers Workshop where he is a Founding Member.

Diane McDonough is a poet and writer who has been published in numerous journals. She won first prize in the PrimeTime Cape Cod 2013 Poetry Contest and has exhibited her poetry in responsive art exhibits, including the current 2014 Poetry and Art Show, Wickford Art Association. Diane, who worked as a high school educator for over 25 years, has a B.A. in English and an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology. She lives in the village of Marstons Mills on Cape Cod with her husband and their two dogs.

Jackie Dawn received a bachelor's degree in creative writing and literature from Hofstra University in 2007, where she was also the recipient of the Eugene Schneider Award for Prose. Her work has appeared in several literary journals, including Susquehanna University's The Apprentice Writer. She lives in New York, where she works as a senior editor in marketing and as a freelance writer. In addition, she is a co-moderator of and contributor to a weekly fiction blog. She is a dedicated shoe and book addict, and is currently working on her first novel.

Joseph Barro resides in Southern California with his wife and family.  He is a high school teacher, as well as a lifelong musician, songwriter, recording, and performing artist. Joseph has written hundreds of songs, a variety of recorded albums, and has just begun writing short stories for publication. He just recently celebrated his first publication with his short story “Bodies” featured in the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of the literary magazine  Joseph is now participating in a social media storytelling project entitled #TwitterTales with a variety of other writers. Follow Joseph on Twitter or contact at the following address:
Twitter: @MrJBarro

Linda Emma is an author, educator and educational marketing writer. She creates client content and supervises a small team of freelance writers, helping them to hone their individual skills and styles while always maintaining the client voice. Linda also works at a small New England college where she has served as instructor, writing tutor and learning consultant. In the spare moment or two she can eke out of any week, she pens posts to a tongue-in-cheek titled blog and tries to still maintain a relationship with the fictional characters of her forthcoming second novel. She is married with two children who always inspire.

In a press release, Amazon called Martin Crosbie one of their success stories of 2012. His self-publishing journey has been chronicled in Publisher's Weekly, Forbes Online, and Canada's The Globe and Mail newspaper. His non-fiction work How I Sold 30,000 eBooks on Amazon's Kindle: An Easy-To-Follow Self-Publishing Guidebook, 2014 Edition has been called “A must-have go-to reference book for self-published writers.” He's also the author of My Temporary Life – Book One of the My Temporary Life Trilogy, My Name Is Hardly - Book Two of the My Temporary Life Trilogy, Lies I Never Told: A Collection of Short Stories, and Believing Again: A Tale Of Two Christmases. You can learn more about Martin at:
Connect with him at:

Pat Greene is originally from Ireland but has been calling New York home for the past twenty five years. He earns his daily crust working in the very unique and demanding, yet very exciting NYC construction industry. In his spare time, he likes to write and you can read some of his short fiction

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s first novel, Miriam The Medium (Simon & Schuster), was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. Her novel, Kaylee’s Ghost (Amazon and Nook), is an Indie Finalist. Her latest short story collection, What I Wish You'd Told Me, has just been published by Shebooks. She’s published essays in NYT (Lives), and Newsweek and in many anthologies. Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in The Coe Review, Compass Rose, The Griffin, Inkwell Magazine, The Iowa Review, Los Angeles Review, The MacGuffin, Memoir And Moment, Negative Capability, Pennsylvania English, The Carolina Review, and more. She won the Brandon Memorial Literary Award from Negative Capability. Shapiro is a professional psychic who currently teaches writing at UCLA Extension.

Stephanie Haddad is a wife and mother of two by day, a freelance writer and author by bedtime. She is the author of four romance novels, including the Amazon top-ten hit A Previous Engagement. Stephanie also enjoys writing short stories, some of which appear in the virtual archives of The Write Place At the Write Time. Now that her youngest is nearing age 2, she's hoping to dedicate more time to her fiction writing, including a paranormal romance series in the works.

Terin Tashi Miller spent many of his formative years in India, the child of anthropologist parents. Since then, he has lived and worked in a variety of countries in Europe and Asia. His writing has appeared in guide books, international magazines including Time and Geografica Revista, and newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News and The Los Angeles Times.  Born in St. Louis, Mo., and raised in Madison, Wis. and several provinces in India, he currently lives in New Jersey.

Nicole M. Bouchard is Editor-in-Chief and founder of The Write Place At the Write Time literary journal. This is a role she has enjoyed for six years, connecting with incredible creative individuals. She is a member of the National League of American Pen Women. She began her writing career in journalism at a regional entertainment publication with pieces including interviews with Broadway actress Marie Danvers and singer/songwriter Jewel Kilcher. Combining magazine journalism editing experience with her fiction writing and passion for literature, she turned her interest toward the literary world. Her portfolio includes best-selling authors such as Janet Fitch, Dennis Lehane, Arthur Golden, Alice Hoffman Joanne Harris, Mona Simpson, Melanie Benjamin and a number of creative professionals. She served as one of the editors on the small press panel at The Fourth Annual Mass. Poetry Festival in 2012.  Ms. Bouchard has recently enjoyed branching out into freelance substantive and developmental manuscript editing. She still writes as time allows, assembling a short fiction collection and working on a novel.