Msnowe's Blog

My Chotchkie Is Better Than Your Chotchkie

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on October 13, 2009

…also, m.snowe just likes saying “chotchkie.”

Imagine each grain of sand is an Awesome, Awesome Word.

Imagine Each Grain of Sand Is an Awesome, Awesome Word.

m.snowe is referring to this project/contest–where writers have been enlisted to compose very short stories, stories centered around some arbitrary, worthless knickknacks. The knickknacks in question are then auctioned off, all in some attempt to see if storytelling can thereby increase the value of an otherwise practically value-less object. Some fairly well-knowns have submitted stories, including Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Goldstein, and Nickolson Baker. Now, the creators of this little project have opened it up to any Joe or Josephine Schmo, and ask people to submit their best less-than-500-word stories about some rando BBQ sauce baster thingy.

Okay, so m.snowe thinks it’s an interesting premise, writing about rando objects. It sounds kind of like a first year composition class project. Fine. But here’s the problem: you cannot use this as an accurate gauge of how the object’s monetary value changes in response to storytelling. Because in reality, the story is not what is changing the monetary value of the chotchkie written about. Inherently, what people are paying for is the name. It would be like saying, “this baseball is absolutely worth more in itself…oh, and it happens to have Babe Ruth’s signature on it.” People are not paying for the baseball–the baseball is merely the vehicle for the expensive, added value thing appended to it. So yes, maybe Colson pulled out a good story, and people will want to read it…sure. But you can be certain that the object connected with the story is not going to be more expensive or sought-after on a large scale, aside from that single one written about. Because Colson’s story is his signature on a baseball, in effect. Which is fine. But let’s call this what it is folks–a marketing tool. Aren’t convinced? Well if this one is writing a story for it, you know it’s shameless self-promotion.

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12 Responses

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  1. fictionadvocate said, on October 13, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    Chalk it up to the noble desire to make literature “relevant” in the present day– a desire that often leads writers and editors to base their work on a faulty premise. In this case, it’s a nice idea to get people excited by pinning a story to an object, but it seems to enhance the object (and its sale price) more than it enhances anybody’s reading and writing.

  2. fictionadvocate said, on October 13, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    Kind of related: there’s a much-hyped issue of Granta on stands now, and despite its interesting premise (famous writers talking about Chicago) there is skepticism about whether such a premise for literature is even worthwhile.

    http://www.thepointmag.com/granta.html

  3. msnowe said, on October 13, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Agreed re: making literature relevant. But honestly, the nature of literature is unpredictable–you can’t identify what people will pick up in a story and tie relevance (i.e. value or $$) to. I’ve never fantasized about buying the items that have relevance in a story, at least because of the story itself anyways. A story’s simultaneous ability to draw a reader in while still being completely untouchable makes it great, and I think most readers recognize that owning some object isn’t going to give you a better experience than what fiction already inherently does.

  4. fictionadvocate said, on October 13, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Nuts. And I paid a fortune for this picture of Dorian Gray…

  5. Matt G said, on October 14, 2009 at 3:35 am

    Thanks for injecting some much-needed skepticism into this venture; I can’t believe how much ‘OMG-this-is-s000-amazing’ press this site has been getting for what is essentially (in my opinion) a dumb gimmick featuring generally forgettable stories that on the whole seem like they took about ten minutes to write. (And Colson Whitehead continued his story on his Twitter — ZOMG!!!!) If this is the future of literature, I’ll be happy to live in the past.

  6. fictionadvocate said, on October 14, 2009 at 3:00 pm

    Also on this topic:

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2009/06/the-thing-and-jonathan-lethem.html

  7. Dr. Ballon said, on October 14, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    So, in other words, I need to write long, crappy stories in all my eBay listings in order for people to bid on them? No thank you.

  8. msnowe said, on October 15, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Matt–agreed. I’m not necessarily opposed to “dumb gimmicks,” but I just don’t see the literary advantage to this one at all. Plus it’s being marketed as an “intellectual investigation” in significance, which is just bullocks. Call it what it is: easy exposure for authors. (Also, I’ll have to start following Whitehead on twitter…OMFG!)

    Dr. B.–here is a product description that I think you need to mimic in your ads: http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/AH53HOCCN5CLF/ref=cm_cr_dp_pdp

    Fict. Ad.–interesting links. Is this Lethem guy worth reading? You’ve blogged about him a lot.

  9. Dr. Ballon said, on October 15, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Haha! Was that the inspiration for The Office last week? I’m pretty sure Dwight said the same exact thing.

  10. msnowe said, on October 15, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Probably, but I can’t confirm, since I don’t watch live teevee…

  11. Dr. Ballon said, on October 15, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    That’s what Hulu is for! 🙂

  12. […] of innovation over the actual story as some kind of marketing gimmick (speaking of gimmick, remember this crazy scheme?). But hey, it’s a tough world out there for writers, so anything to get noticed isn’t […]


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