What do a druidic talisman, shape-shifting cat people and Warren Ellis have in common? The answer is Red Phone Box, a fiction anthology currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. Led by Salome Jones and Tim Dedopulos, Red Phone Box features stories from Ellis, comics writer Dan Wickline and 26 others, including myself. Speaking with Tim and Salome, I try to get to the bottom of this unique anthology.
How did Red Phone Box come about?
Salome: It started as a web series. I wrote the first story and put it on my website. I got a few people wanting to write for it right away, but it really took off when Warren wrote a little blog post about it. The best thing that came out of that blog post was Gethin Lynes finding us. I shopped for other writers. Asked for names and tracked people down, asking them to contribute stories. For example, Peter Dawes writes vampire novels in his real life. So when a vampire character came up in the book, I got in touch with him and asked him to write a story about that character. I wanted something erotic, so I sought out a writer of erotica.
The biggest epiphany I had was in realizing that Tim could use his puzzle-making skills to help me weave the stories together better. This was the moment when the story cycle was born. Before this bulb went off in my head, this was just an anthology. It became something bigger when Tim agreed to help me fill in the missing pieces.
Red Phone Box draws on writers from around the world. Where did you find them all?
Salome: I can really answer this in one word: Twitter. This is a novel made possible by social media. Everyone who worked on the book is connected to me or one of the other writers by Twitter. This is what creative collaboration and meeting people is in the twenty-first century. We’re living in the future and it’s really a great place sometimes.
If you mean more specifically where were they found… Well, all over the United States, Canada, the UK – both England and Scotland, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, another mystery country, Australia, and the Middle East.
You’ve described Red Phone Box as a story cycle. How do they fit together?
Tim: Story cycles are collections of independent stories that work together to provide some overall narrative or contrast. This can range from very tightly linked material like James Joyce’s Dubliners down to widely-dispersed collections of material, such as Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos tales. Academics argue back and forth about exact definitions incessantly, which makes for a decent career I guess.
In our case, the unifying pivot point is the Red Phone Box itself – and the history (and fate) which are attached to it. The Box is, well, it’s many things, but it’s often a gateway. The thing about gateways is that sometimes they suck you in, and sometimes they let things out…The different stories permit illuminated glimpses through, so you can see a bit of what is going on. So as well as often interlinking and feeding into each other directly, they also give you changing views into the events happening in the background. Bad things are building, and the future is reaching out to the present.
So while you can enjoy the stories as unrelated tales in themselves, they also work as a jigsaw, slotting together to give you a vision of something much larger and darker. It all takes a lot of shepherding, of course. But the end result is something really rather special, I believe.
How on Earth you did nab Warren Ellis?
Salome: Warren and I have been friends for years. When I was a graduate student studying writing in the US, he was my guru. I even dedicated my thesis to him. When you study writing in an academic setting, there’s a lot of bias against writing genre. I really sought out writer friends who called bullshit on that and Warren was at the front of that line of people for me. So when I started this project, he was very supportive. I was a bit terrified to ask him to write for it. I remember trying to come up with a persuasive argument for how it would benefit him. Finally I just asked him. He really is a nice man and in spite of his protestations, quite brilliant.
At this point, the book is funded. Do you have any stretch goals in mind?
Tim: Of course! The Kickstarter goal is the amount we require to fulfill all the pledge rewards and to get the book actually printed. Our next aim is to set up a distribution deal and get the book into brick and mortar stores. There’s quite a lot of hoops to leap through there, many of which take fairly substantial amounts of money. So that’s our first aim. If we cover that, then we’ll consider bribing another big-name writer to join Warren Ellis in the contributors list. We’re looking into possible candidates at the moment, just in case. After that… Hm, we’ll think of something. A Red Phone Box comic cycle, perhaps?
Salome: We plan to do a second book. We’ve signed up some new people to write it. Some of the current crop of writers will be back. We hope to recruit some big names. We’re still looking for good writers. The second book will be a little more planned out. We want it to take what we have and draw to a kind of finale.
This book is very comic book series like in a way, more episodic in the way of a serial like a comic book. It’s more like life than the structured, plotted out novel or film script. That’s one of the interesting things about it. There are moments where you go, “Oh, those are connected.” That’s one of my favorite aspects of story cycle versus novel. But it’s a bit like herding cats to make it do what you want. So for the purposes of giving a big finish that resolves most of the threads, we need to give writers more specific assignments. This whole thing has been a big, gorgeous experiment. The second book will be a different kind of experiment.
More information about Red Phone Box can be found at http://www.gwdbooks.com/news.html