Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Nova Avon Twitter Novel Social Media Project

Me (center) with photos of two of the Nova Avon characters. Left and center, Nova Avon. Right, Moslof Folsom.

Links to this project (please read below for information and explanation):
Nova Avon:

Moslof Folsom (The Palindrome Guy, another character in the project):
The Rising Sun Institute of Spiritual Cooking (Founded by Suzie Baker, author of Haiku Cooking)

he Nova Avon Twitter Novel is the story of events in the life of a fictional character named Nova Avon. It is an internet project that I am building using social media (interactive websites that people use to communicate with one another, usually about their everyday lives). The main thread (or frame) of the project is on Twitter. Facebook, Youtube, and Blogspot are also used. The project is based in writing, and also includes photographs, videos, collage and other graphic art.

It is an interesting experiment because of the real-time factor. I conceived it as a serial piece that mimics how people use social media. So it's best if the readers regularly follow it online, although it is possible to drop in, click around and become familiar with all of the characters and media. It is a form of performance art. If the audience is a mass media one, then it's like a TV soap opera, because of its serial nature.

The project started out as a novel on Twitter, the web site on which people can post short messages, like a bulletin board or mini-blog. Quoting the Twitter website, it is a "... real-time short messaging service that works over multiple networks and devices." This means it can be accessed from computers, cellphones, and other ways.

The entries on Twitter are only 140 characters, the maximum length of most text messages. That is about the length of two short sentences. Generally people post comments about daily activities or interests, often mundane. I use that format to briefly outline events in the life of Nova Avon (and other characters involved in her story). Here are a few examples of entries from the project that indicate she has lost her job. She begins to include references to alcohol in her entries, and makes typos sometimes, hinting that her job loss may be stressful:

"Haven't tweeted lately bcause got laid off from job. But already have 2 interviews so it's ok. Been jogging, cooking , reading, wine tas[ting]"

"Starting to like beer, too. Found a great one, Asahi. Had it with pulled prok sandwich for lunch today."

"Bus driver just said the day after rain is like life: things always look better after a stormy time. I'm more in a drought than a storm."

She begins spending time in the library, and writes about things she discovers there, like a haiku cookbook by a (fictitious) author named Suzie Baker. She posts some of the cooking haikus:

"Frying egg haiku from Suzie Baker's 'Haiku Cooking': Oil is fine-ly hot / When dropped liquid egg turns white, / Cover to cook top"

Great pancake recipe frm 'Haiku Cooking' by Suzie Baker: Flour, rising powder / Dry,Wet stir not much then pour / On hot iron film"

This project is enjoyable to me because I can build it bit by bit, sending Twitter and blog entries by text message from my cellphone. I love making up the cooking haikus while waiting for buses and trains. I like to read fiction, and like creating it, but am not inclined to write much of it in traditional literary form. The internet is a great medium to use for this project because I can use various writing formats and voices, and mix writing, photography, video, and graphic arts. It has a performative aspect connected to my (now 20-year) practice of creating alter-egos, but goes much deeper than the films and videos I have made. It also provides a place for photography, which I have been doing more of lately. The first image representations of the characters in this project began as still photos; in the past I have always created my characters first in film/video, and later made photographs of them.

It is interesting to develop my characters through writing and photographs. The truth is, I don't really know the general makeup of people who use social media, or who would be interested in following a fictional story that unfolds in real time. Here we have the whole question or issue of story. Generally when a work of fiction is created, it is expected to have a prominent story arc. But the story arc of everyday life--now portrayed in social media--is very flat. Having coffee in Starbucks is not a momentous event in someone's life, nor is making shopping or cooking chicken fajitas. But those are the things that most people write about--and follow--in social media. So it remains to be seen who will be interested in following the slowly unfolding story of Nova Avon in her new San Francisco life.