In the old days, people read a book, listened to a radio show or watched a movie for enjoyment and maybe discussed it with family or friends. In these new days, readers, viewers and listeners want to be more involved. Take the phenomena of the podcast, Serial, created by the producers of This American Life. It is a true-crime drama, which airs every Thursday. It is so popular that high school English teachers have changed their curriculums to include it, there is a podcast about the podcast, and there are separate investigations going on outside the show’s investigation. Clearly, today’s audiences want to be active participants in their entertainment. Just ask my gaming addict child, Max.
The desire to bring fiction a little closer to life has always been around. I’m sure this is the reason film, theater productions and theme parks based on books are so popular. While I rarely see the film version of a book I’ve read, I do often wish a business, food or place in a novel was real. I can’t believe there isn’t a person out there who’s read Harry Potter who doesn’t wish they could sit down in The Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley and have a delicious butterbeer. In Pondicherry (now Puducherry), the powers-that-be actually considered building a zoo because Yann Martel’s Life of Pi was so wildly popular and tourists could experience every place in the book, except the zoo. By the time the movie came out in 2012, they had built a mini zoo, so now Pi enthusiasts can get the entire experience they read about in the novel. In her new book, Find Me I’m Yours, Hillary Carlip has actually created real worlds that you can enter by clicking through her fictional story, all without leaving the comfort of your sofa and slippers.
When I first heard about Hillary Carlip, I was jealous of her because she did something I felt that I should’ve thought of and done. Six years ago she published a book, a la Carte – The Secret Lives of Grocery Shoppers. This performance art, photo book was the culmination of years of her collecting grocery lists of strangers. She found them on the street, in grocery carts and the floor of the stores she visited. When Carlip read each list she’d get a visual in her head, of the person. She continued to collect these lists and eventually created personas and stories for some of them. With the help of a makeup artist, clothes scavenger and photographer, she made herself into twenty-six shoppers who appear in her book.
For example, one list had three items written on it: mousetraps, cheese, mouse. Carlip dressed as a questionable-looking guy and was photographed in the dairy aisle with a package of Kraft singles. On one page of the book is a photograph of the list and “Derrick’s” bio and on the other is the photo of Ms. Carlip, as her creation, Derrick. Her characters span many different ethnicities and genders. Out of each grocery list she creates a very provocative and interesting slice of life.
I found this fascinating because I am not an epic person, I love small, narrow but deep stories. One of my all-time favorite movies is Babette’s Feast, because it’s about one gourmet dinner. I enjoy Wes Anderson’s films, such as Moonrise Kingdom and Hotel Budapest because they are about one event or the entire story occurs in one place. I love The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for one reason: the journey through the narrow wardrobe door and into Narnia. One of my favorite museum exhibits of all time is the Thorne Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago. These are tiny, historically correct, period rooms from all over the world. I have visited them more times than I can count and looking at them always leaves me yearning for more.
If, like me, you love the Thorne Rooms, read Marianne Malone’s story, The Sixty-Eight Rooms, which takes place in the Thorne Rooms. In the book two children find a magic key and are able to shrink to the scale of the rooms and visit them. That alone is wonderful but what is even better is that the doors of the rooms are portals into say 18th Century France during the French Revolution. As the characters walk into the gardens they get a chance to meet people who are living in the era of the room. If they make that book into a movie, I’d be heading to the theater!
Back to Ms. Carlip! Last week, she published a groundbreaking interactive “click-it” ebook entitled Find Me I’m Yours. Besides being intrigued by Ms. Carlip, I also love romances and I like to do some light reading at night so I bought her book while lounging in bed. The story features the heroine, Mags, who works at an online bridal magazine, Bridalville. She is heartbroken because her boyfriend has cheated on here. She finds a videotape message from a stranger and sets out on a scavenger hunt to find him because she’s sure he is Mr. Right.
Ms. Carlip built thirty-three real websites that are in the story, so I found myself clicking on the Bridalville website. These sights are chock full of information and links to other “real” sites. As I clicked through Bridalville’s site I found myself perusing honeymoon destinations, and next thing I knew was on Etsy shopping for wedding gifts! Needless to say this is not a bedtime read but it is a very provocative and fun concept.
I am proud to say that I may have thought of this idea around the same time Ms. Carlip was developing hers. Since I am fascinated with the notion of a story within a story, I created a book about my dog, Rainbow, entitled Rainbow the Doodle-Dog Finds Her Passion, which occurs on twenty companies’ Facebook pages. Rainbow’s story begins with her post on the Ruff Club’s page, and ends on the Sears Craftsman page. Each post indicated where the next post would be and I actually thought people would follow the story across these pages.
My hope was that they would write comments below Rainbow’s posts and there would be a vertical story in addition to the horizontal. I would then screen shot the page to make my book. The only problem was that I wasn’t getting the comments I was hoping for. I ended up making a bunch of FB personas and sat with three computers while I posted comments by my fake people to Rainbow’s status and those fake people interacted with each other and some real people. It was exhausting but I did accomplish my goal of a story within a story. But unlike Ms. Carlip, no one is buying my book.
Kathleen Thometz is an artist, writer and co-founder of and teacher with Doodle Art & Design. She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs: Rainbow, Sunshine and Thunderstorm. You can experience more about her at www.kathleenthometz.com