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Bewildering Stories

Piers Anthony, Writer’s Retweet

reviewed by Alison McBain

Writer’s Retweet
Author: Piers Anthony
Publisher: Dreaming Big Publications
Date: August 13, 2016
Paperback: 148 pages
ISBN: 1535513314; 9781535513319
Price: $8.00

I was interested in reading Piers Anthony’s new book, Writer’s Retweet, for several reasons. He was one of the authors I grew up with, and I’m always curious to come back to a writer that I’ve read years ago and see if my understanding of their work offers anything new. I’ve reread books from when I was a kid and found layers of meaning in the text that I missed when I was younger, such as Madeline L’Engle’s work. And then there are other authors whom I’ve revisited who’ve had much less of an impact on the adult me, even if they were integral to my formative years.

I’m also always looking for work that expands my understanding of the creative form, and the concept of this book was intriguing. Every author hears over and over that social media is a key component of today’s writer’s platform. I’m on a few social media networks, but I feel I’ll always be a bit curmudgeonly about them. I enjoy them, but I consider myself a bit past the age or stage of life where I will keep up with the latest technology and trend.

So it was with great interest that I picked up Writer’s Retweet. Mr. Anthony begins the book by saying, “When things went wrong with traditional publishing, I moved on to self-publishing.” And the self-publisher told him to become active on social media. Mr. Anthony came up with the idea of doing a story in tweets, which would run over the course of many months. In his own words, “I wanted something dramatic enough to attract and hold a person one day at a time; philosophical depth was unnecessary.”

This is pantsing taking to a whole new level. For those of you who don’t know the term, “pantsing” is generally applied to writers who “write by the seat of their pants.” They don’t do extensive outlining ahead of time, but let the muse guide their words. The opposite of this is “plotters,” who, as the name implies, know where their character is going to be at any given time throughout the story. I myself am more of a “pantser” when it comes to writing, and so I wanted to see if this thought experiment of Mr. Anthony’s bore any fruit.

Every day, Mr. Anthony would put out 140 characters on Twitter to tell the next installment of the story. When he finished writing these stories after many months, he collected them into a book so that those who missed any installments could sit down and read them as a whole.

The first piece is “Experiment,” and one might guess that the title applies to the story itself as an experiment in social media, as well as to the subject of the story. The story begins with Bigelow Bilgewater, who is so ordinary he is unremarkable. On his way home from work one day, he narrowly avoids death from a number of different accidents, including being hit by a falling safe, being run over by a car, and being bit by a rabid dog. He runs into a woman in the same boat as him, Paula Plaintiff. She says she has narrowly escaped similar illusions, and they realize that they can work together and free themselves from whoever is plaguing them. They decide to confront the perpetrators of their misfortune together.

The next piece continues the plot from where the first one leaves off and is called “Discovery.” Bigelow and Paula find out where the illusions are coming from, but upon entering the main headquarters of the perpetrators, they discover that all the people have been murdered. The company recruits them to find out who the murderer is. The story concludes in “Mission,” where the two characters confront and overcome the murderer.

There is some repetition in this first trilogy of pieces, which I feel is somewhat inevitable with a story told in tweets. The author is trying not to lose his reader but, at the same time, he is trying to tell a comprehensive story. When the tweets are put together in block story format, as opposed to tweet format, it shows the difference between a story told in pieces and a draft that has been created out of whole cloth. While the stories are fun and adventuresome, they don’t delve into any sort of deeper meaning.

The next story is “Dull Street Incident,” and it is told by a reporter who hears that something of interest has happened on Dull Street, which is a poorer neighborhood that generally lives up to its name. After snooping around, the reporter discovers something unusual and somewhat shocking, but at the same time concludes that there isn’t enough of a story to publish.

This piece struck me as a bit strange and unconventional. The subject matter made me uncomfortable, which was probably the point of the story: an incident swept under the rug. Although I don’t know if the reporter’s reaction is realistic, I feel that, in this day and age, with the lack of news media accountability, a story regarding this particular subject matter would be blasted out by the media even if there wasn’t any corroborating evidence. It wouldn’t be ignored, which is what the reporter ends up doing. But other than that, the piece did a good job of suspenseful pacing.

The last story is probably the most interesting, as it contains a deeper message and has a more elaborate plot. Entitled “Forbidden Fruit,” it centers on Edith, who discovers a strange plant that gives her magical powers. With the help of her lover, Kent, they discover that the plant comes from an alternate plane of existence where magic exists. The drawback is the people there only exist in a spiritual realm and can’t make any true difference in the world, since nothing they do is permanent or real. Edith and Kent must make a decision whether to stay and live forever, or go back home and face the reality of death.

"Forbidden Fruit" is perhaps my favorite story in the collection. I thought it was much more complex and contained a lot of the elements that I was looking for, both in a story and in this tweet experiment.

This collection isn’t long — only five stories in all — and it ends up being a fast read. Even within the limits of the tweets and the length of time it would take to write these stories — 140 characters a day doesn’t add up to a lot; to tell a story of any length would take months — I felt that the writing style was strong and interesting enough to hold my attention. However, there isn’t a lot of depth to these stories, as Mr. Anthony himself warns in his introduction. If you’re looking for anything other than a light adventure, you might be disappointed. I enjoyed the premise of the experiment, though, and look forward to seeing what Mr. Anthony comes up with next.

Copyright © 2016 by Alison McBain

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