Ernest Hemingway once wrote a story that consisted of only six words. “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” In November of 2006 WIRED followed in his footsteps by collected more six word stories from famous genre authors.
But never before has there been a venue for authors, amateur or professional, to submit their own stories that breach the boundaries of brevity. (I think that’s an oxymoron, but I’ll run with it.)
The idea is an outgrowth of a new social service you might have heard of, called Twitter, that has been revolutionizing that way that people interact. (FYI: You can follow me @johnottinger) In many ways an improvement on chat, this type of conversation is not required to take place in real time, and through the magic of open source API, lots and lots of useful tools are cropping up for users that add functionality and make it easy to post from your phone, the web, or desktop.
So it was only a matter of time before someone got wise and made possible a Twitter based e-zine. Though there have been other similar projects, like a collaborative novel and book quotes, no one has truly tried to create a comprehensive ’zine. The first of its kind (to my knowledge), Thaumatrope (@thaumatrope) is a zine dedicated to science fiction, fantasy and horror. It is run by the folks over at Green Tentacles, a web design company specializing in SF/F/H related sites.
Paying SFWA rates at roughly $0.05 per word, if not technically qualifying as an SFWA market, all stories, interviews and reviews are limited to twitter’s 140 word standard amount. Updated daily, Thaumatrope is has so far had contributions from John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, Jeremiah Tolbert, Alethea Kontis and more.*
According to the website, a thaumatrope is a “small disc containing a pair of images, tied between two bits of string. When the disc is spun the two images become one. The thaumatrope relies on the principle certain toys use to create illusions of motion. As it spins the quick flashes are seen as one image.”
The idea for Thaumatrope was born when N. E. Lilly (@nelilly), editor of the ezine and a principal at Green Tentacles, asked Mary Robinette Kowal, this years John W. Campbell Award Winner for Best New Writer (@MaryRobinette), “What use is Twitter?” while on the Websites for Writers panel at Philcon.
As a result writers have a chance to follow in the footsteps of literary giants like Hemmingway by creating six word or 140 character stories, and readers can enjoy a very short piece of fiction that is entertaining but not time consuming.
In sparse language, entire stories are told, humorous, exciting, or scary. The short fiction in Thaumatrope creates illusions, not of physical motion, but of mind.
*(Full disclosure: several of my own stories and lots of my reviews have been accepted for publication at Thaumatrope).