I like that Rob Walker — he thinks like a creative superstar. His recent project Significant Objects featured my old teacher Myla Goldberg and many other writing deities who probably agreed to sign on to the project because it is so awesome. Take a recycled every day object and write a story from it. Not bad, gentlemen, not bad at all.
Q (Nicolle Elizabeth for Fictionaut): Hey Rob, I see you have a group which also is a writing project called Significant Objects going on here at Fictionaut. Tell us all about it. What are you doing, m’aan?
A (Rob Walker): SignificantObjects.com is a project initiated by Joshua Glenn and me, this past July. Here is the elevator-pitch explanation: “A talented, creative writer invents a story about an object. Invested with new significance by this fiction, the object should – according to our hypothesis – acquire not merely subjective but objective value. How to test our theory? Via eBay!”
For the first phase of the project, we had 100 writers (William Gibson, Luc Sante, Bruce Sterling, Myla Goldberg, Meg Cabot, many others) create fictions based upon bric-a-brac objects purchased for a couple of bucks at thrift stores and garage sales. We published the stories on our site — and as product descriptions on eBay. Result: We sold $128.74 worth of insignificant doodads for $3,612.51. That’s a 2,700% Significance markup! The median price paid was $26; highest price was $192.50 (the median object price when we bought them was about a dollar).
In other words, we proved our point. Along the way, our site became rather popular, attracting tens of thousands of readers. So we’ve decided to launch Volume 2. This time, all the money will go to a cause. We will probably auction 50 objects, one every weekday, and when it’s over we’ll give all the dough to 826 National, a nonprofit that tutors students age 6-18 in creative and expository writing.
With the Fictionaut group, we’re basically offering the writers in the Fictionaut community a chance to play along, and maybe contribute to our project.
How has the move over to Fictionaut been inspiring, fun, helpful, if at all. If not we can try to find you a thrift store depiction of a pony or something. I am considering asking for an intern, and I’ll say, “Intern, find Significant Objects a depiction of a pony or something. Where are my sunglasses?”
Ha! Well, no, we don’t need any help getting objects, not at the moment anyway.
One of the things that surprised us when we did the first round of S.O. was how many writers got in touch basically volunteering to participate. We did our best to accommodate that development — we even did contests with Slate, and with SmithMag.net — but I guess there’s something appealing about writing a story that gives significance to an object.
At the same time, we’ve been really interested in the various experiments out there to use technology in clever ways that result in more great creative writing. I mean, I think we’re sort of part of that. So when I learned about Fictionaut I just thought well, let’s see if there’s some way for us to get involved. And maybe get a story or two we wouldn’t have been able to get any other way. That’d be cool, right?
What is Significant Objects going to do in the future? Is the moon part of the plan?
We do intend to produce a moon-specific edition, yes. I can’t say anything more about that, though.
What would Significant Objects like to see from Fictionaut? Breathmint? More pillows? An intern?
Not sure what you’re trying to tell me with that breathmint offer.
Anyway, I think right now we’re just trying to learn how the Fictionaut world works, and what the best way is for us to be involved. Originally we were thinking more in straight-up contest terms — like highest rated story about Object X wins. But then it seemed like maybe it would be better to be more open-ended about it and just see what develops. What do you think?
Anything else you’d like to tell me here. Be bold, go big or go home.
Yes, well, I think you and all the readers and writers you know should definitely spend some time checking out the stories we’ve published at S.O., because they’re awesome and you’ll love them. We went pretty big and bold with Volume 1. So let’s get some Fictionauts involved in making Volume 2 even bigger and bolder, yes?