I helped make an exquisite corpse out of a cat who is always too busy chasing the worm in a tequila bottle to realize how much trouble he finds himself in. Let me explain…
Last fall my friend Darren Cormier posted a message on his Facebook wall looking for thirteen writers to join him in an editorial experiment. Cormier, a writer and editor who had recently self-published his first book – a collection of original stories 140 characters long he had posted on Twitter – was obviously no stranger to exploring new forms of writing. I’d never heard of an “exquisite corpse” project before, but I took the plunge anyway.
The result is an amusing collaborative project that has brought thirteen unique writers together to tell the tale of the title character of THE ADVENTURES OF TEQUILA KITTY. Each author was assigned a chapter to write with only the previous chapter as a prompt for their own ideas. Now the book, which took seven months of email exchanges to compose, is being released – one chapter at a time – on Cormier’s website, as well as at the literary-networking site Fictionaut.
I recently met up with Cormier at a Boston bar for a shot of distilled agave in honor of Tequila Kitty and to discuss how the whole project came about, what exactly an “exquisite corpse” is, and where “Teqs” may end up next.
Junkyard Arts: Where did Tequila Kitty come from?
Darren Cormier: What has essentially become the logo of Tequila Kitty – a cat with a sombrero and a bottle of tequila in front of it – was floating around as a meme last summer and underneath it there was a caption that said “So who is this ‘Moderation’ that people tell me to drink with, anyway?”. So I posted it on my Facebook page and I made a comment. I said “Here is the subject of my next novel.” It was a sarcastic comment, like “here’s the subject – my adventures with Tequila Kitty.” (I actually looked that up a couple of weeks ago and I didn’t realize at the time that I actually named him.)
And then some friends made comments – Chris Chiuk among them – and I’ve always wanted to do a collaborative project. Mike Hancock and I have always talked about doing that. So, based upon that and the comments I received, my hyper active imagination took over.
JYA: You call it a collaborative project, but this particular style of collaboration is called an “Exquisite Corpse”. That’s how you pitched it to [the writers]. Can you describe what an “exquisite corpse” is and what interested you about the idea of an “exquisite corpse”?
DC: The surrealist artists in the 1920s came up with the idea of the “exquisite corpse” project. You would take a drawing, and one person would draw the hand. Then they would hand it off to the next person who would see the hand and then draw the arm. Then they would hand it off to the next person, except the hand would be blocked off so that the next artist could only see the arm or the forearm and they would draw the bicep. Except all artist have different style and, therefore, it would keep going and going. They would choose five artists and, by the time it was done, you would have what was essentially a body but it really…it was a hodgepodge of, like, the worst Frankensteins you could think of. Andre Briton called it an “Exquisite Corpse”.
Writers of the time actually adopted it as well because they thought it was a fun idea. I had known about it because I’ve always liked books and stories that just totally mess around with structure. And I just thought it would be fun. An Internet writer friend that I know, Lynn Beighly – who in her full time job writes all the for Dummies books but in her spare time writes post-modernist fiction – had an idea on Twitter to do an “exquisite corpse” project. I signed up for it, but she got too busy and it never went anywhere. But it was in my back of my mind, so I just decided to launch it myself.
JYA: You have a topic; you have a format you want to go for – now you have to go find talent. How did you gather the thirteen writers that make up THE ADVENTURES OF TEQUILA KITTY?
DC: Well, I like the number thirteen, just for auspicious purposes. Always have. There were originally a handful of handpicked writers. My original idea was to get thirteen writers of thirteen different genres and have them write a chapter in their specific field or genre. One person writes poetry; one person writes paranormal romance; one person writes very bleak, Western-esque stories. That proved to be far too hard and far too restricting to get people to commit to that, so I just decided to group thirteen writers.
Of those that I handpicked for their genres, I had handpicked maybe four. But then I said they could do whatever they want – they don’t have to write in poetry, they don’t have to write in their style or what their published genre is. And then I just posted on Facebook – on a bunch of groups and on my regular page and Twitter – asking if anyone was interested. And the first thirteen people who responded were in (and I included myself in that).
JYA: Good choice on that. One thing I was amazed about the whole process was the organization and how to make it run. In our age of technology, was it difficult planning how to get everything to the next person in the link? Do you feel it went smoothly, or were there some hiccups along the way?
DC: There were some hiccups along the way. Umm, I was hoping it would be a lot smoother, but we also have extremely busy lives. Some people are married with children. Some people have a lot of other projects. Almost every single person has a full time job or they’re in school. So, I wasn’t really a disciplinarian if they didn’t meet their deadline or if they didn’t meet what I wanted to be the word count of it. And some people, based upon their schedule or lack of interest or just lack of attention, weren’t able to follow the technology of it or the schedule of it. So, there were a few weeks where it got a little hairy. But my good friend Mike Hancock was able to resurrect it and get I back on schedule. From when Mike was able to get it back on track, for the most part everyone else followed suit. And I’m extremely grateful and amazed and thankful that everyone took it upon their own self-discipline and initiative and interest in it to keep it going as they did.
JYA: What were your original ideas for Tequila Kitty, when you first came up with this idea and thought “We are going to write a story about a cat that gets into all sorts of trouble?” What did you initially see happening to him and were there any surprises along the way?
DC: I actually saw no ideas. Actually I didn’t even see him getting into trouble. My idea was just to get thirteen people to write and see where it went. I think we all sort of benefited by – I think my own personal chapter, my own vision, sort of manifested itself with the few people who wrote the first few chapters of it. They all sort of saw it as a noir, anti-hero, crime-oriented piece, which made it fun and funny, because everyone thinks those are a lot of fun. And they are. That probably hit my best interests of it. But I had no predisposed idea. If someone wanted to have Tequila Kitty in space, they could have. If someone wanted to have him try to search Atlantis, they could have. I set no limitations on it except he had to be one of the characters; the chapter had to be roughly three thousand words; and you had a week to write it.
JYA: So you had a week to write it. Not only were you coordinating this whole effort, but you were one of the writers yourself. You were fourth in line in this whole project. From a writers perspective, what did you find most difficult and what did you find the easiest?
DC: Most difficult was that I am one of those people guilty of having a busy schedule and of getting distracted easily. Once I did it was very easy and freeing. I tend to write in a very – I used to be a “free” writer and I have changed over the years to be a “diamond polisher”, if you will. I want to make sure everything is fine before I move on to the next section. It was just fun to sit down and “vomit” for five pages at a time with no inhibitions. And [it was fun] to write outside my own comfort zone.
JYA: You’ve had a chance to read the entire thing now?
DC: I have not actually. I’ve had the chance, but haven’t been able to read the entire thing yet.
JYA: Well, how would you describe Tequila Kitty to everybody?
DC: I’ve hand-picked some chapters based upon some feedback some people have given. We created a Facebook board for all the people taking part in, which [you] were a part of. [You] actually preceded me, so I read your chapter. Based upon people’s reactions to it – “Oh, people are reacting strongly to this person’s chapter so I’ll read this one.” I would read pieces here and there and, every once in a while I would feel guilty I wasn’t reading, so I would read a chapter here or there just to keep myself abreast of what was going on. Because I sort of hand selected chapters to read, I didn’t have the continuity. What I saw I enjoyed. I am extremely pleased that everyone contributed and we’ll see where it goes in the end.
JYA: You mentioned your own writing. What are you working on right now?
DC: I set up some writing goals for the year. I wanted to finish a handful of short story ideas and flash fiction ideas that I had. Part of my thesis was a novella and collection of short stories. I just want to final edit the novella and then the rest of the year would be dedicated to research for a novel idea that I’ve had in my head for a number of years.
JYA: Any hints about the novel?
DC: It’s about the unexpected friendship of a middle aged widower and a teenage refugee who survived the Khmer Rouge.
JYA: Wow! Heavy topic. A far cry from Tequila Kitty. But I guess that’s what the Tequila Kitty project is all about: it’s a fun project; it’s an opportunity for us to flex our writing muscles; and hopefully entertain people along the way.
DC: And to flex our writing muscles in a fun way. I wanted it to be a fun project for everyone who was involved or joined. That was it.
JYA: Last question: what do you hope the readers get out of THE ADVENTURES OF TEQUILA KITTY?
DC: I just hope the readers think it is a lot of fun and that it gets as much readership as it can. I hope they have as much fun as I had organizing and as much fun as I think the writers had writing their chapters.