Transmedia storytelling - Takatsu

6 August 2014 / Leave a Comment
I recently interviewed Takatsu on my blog about being the first cell phone novelist in the West. Takatsu is a fascinating writer, musician and illustrator and is at the forefront of transmedia storytelling. Here I ask him more about how he is fusing different art forms to promote and enhance his new novel Espresso Love.

Tell us a little about how you are going beyond the traditional book and fusing art, media and music with your novel Espresso Love
Espresso Love was written as an accumulation of a few years of personal experiences - in particular, travelling to Japan on my own and networking with local talent, my long persistent striving for musical ambitions and employment for a year in the corporate world - which was in stark contrast with my fundamental values, beliefs and foundations, along with a severe bout of depression, a health issue and other things which hindered my creative energy. When I started the novel at the beginning of this year (2014), it was designed to cap off and try to reveal what I've discovered, largely an ambitious undertaking - something that I had never done before: in fact, I hadn't written prose in a long time. It really became a collection of my philosophical ponderings and criticisms of our current consumer culture, digital entertainment landscape and capitalist mechanism. It is founded on a dystopian sort of concept but is more of a personal and subjective experience of a world that is severely saturated with subliminally oppressive ideology and locked down by pressures and forces on different fronts, that is flattening people to mere numbers and emotionless gears of a machine.

Aside from the planning or thinking process involved, it is in my practice to write from the subconscious and let words flow, so when my conscious and more spiritual existential subconscious worlds collided, it became magical realism. I realize that a huge theme is challenging perception itself, presenting a discourse that the world is made up of all these forces - essentially a myriad of subjective perception and symbolic interpretations: that there is no true objective reality. The characters are swallowed and tossed between different pseudo-realities, a bombardment of instantaneous images and sounds, without a clear sense of what is real. In the same way, the novel is intended to provoke questions rather than answers, inspire new insight and philosophies, and allows a lot of room for reader interpretation. The experience of serializing literature online has been a blessing especially for this kind of project, since so much of it has to do with subjective perception - whenever someone comes along and offers their own insight or responses to the questions and ideas raised through comments and conversation, it is an absolute delight. They become a collaborative moment where I, too, am learning about my own novel and inner world.

In the past few years, I've realized that there is a higher level of human imagination and wisdom beyond our own consciousness and in a sense, many great thinkers and artists in the past who have sparked movements and changed history express radical things rooted in very abstract eternal ideals and concepts that seem to come from something higher than the physical, emotional, social plane of the world (an idea which is explored in my work). This novel is similarly a conscious and subconscious attempt to transcend into the metaphysical through art. How successful it is in doing so, that would be up to the reader! But regardless, the roots of the novel for me is beyond the novel itself, therefore, it is naturally necessary for other arts to come into play.

I've always had a lot of friends and contacts locally and internationally, who are extremely talented and multi-talented, yet many seem to develop their own paths independently. So I am taking this as an opportunity to meld some likeminded artistic souls, old and new friends together and add to the whole idea of this mosaic of subjective perceptions, different interpretations and personal responses to the themes, concepts (or other actual narrative and descriptive details) presented.

I have mentioned the project to a variety of illustrators, painters and artists for a visual art collaboration. Artwork could then be compiled into an art book or perhaps reproduced as t-shirts, phone cases, mugs - merchandise that I have experimented with in the past. A friend of mine who creates handmade crafts already joined in with her coffee bean charms which were part of the first free giveaway I launched for readers, to celebrate a few milestones and give back to the community. Coffee beans are discussed in the novel and play a huge symbolic role, and it feels like it's taking on a physical form, crossing the boundaries of perception, text on a page or screen into reality, from world to world.

Secondly, the dystopian content of the novel is also planned to manifest itself physically, through a social experiment / art installation campaign of large minimalist posters with vague, mysterious, thought-provoking and potentially jarring statements - which are things that actually appear in the novel. These would be posted all over Toronto in public and hopefully will garner some interest or solicit reactions as they present existential questions, offer social criticism or challenge the system. Meanwhile, a few volunteers would be filming and documenting the process.

Thirdly, music, references to music, and discussion of music plays a significant part in the novel, as I am a musician myself and have tried to plan my life around music making. I've always wanted to create original music soundtracks for my novels and involve various media in projects (for example, manga/graphic novel adaptations, independent film and so on), but this novel in particular is even more suitable! Along with other interested independent musicians, we will strive to create a mini-album with jazz, blues, indie, acoustic, rock influences that flow with the sentiments and abstract concepts involved. Each song will be the musician's own interpretation of ideas in the novel.

The art and music projects are planned to be released if/when the novel is published, to spawn some sort of a small scale movement. I am passionate about sharing and inspiring, and I wouldn't want the release of the novel to be an independent solitary occasion; I would take it as a chance to promote my peers and contribute to the artistic landscape. For example - just some wishful thinking here - book release or signing events would be coupled with live coffee house style acoustic performances of the songs in the original album.

Your cell phone novel Secondhand Memories has built quite a following. How have you found the experience of people writing fan fiction about you?
The fanfictions were really something unexpected at first. In the beginning, it was a little strange and embarrassing, because I felt like I was being misinterpreted or that my private life was being invaded knowing someone out there is thinking about me! Then I realized, just like Espresso Love, wearing my pseudonym - rather, mononymous identity - I, myself, am a "text" for subjective interpretation. And that is totally part of my passion and ideal. I always try to share as much as I can with people, friends, family and the community out there. In a sense, I live like an open book and life, in my personal philosophy, does not belong to us: I am here for a limited amount of time for a purpose, for a mission, and to be an inspiration, to help people with their walk in life towards a hopeful and positive direction. So, why was it bothering me that someone was writing something about me? When I realized that I am, in a way, a work of art, my perspective shifted and I welcomed seeing a myriad of different perceptions about me.

In my short story, "Sometimes I Think You Can't Hear Me", there is a passage where I describe how everything within our inner world exists separate from our outer appearance, and that our outer appearance similarly is separate from another person's subjective perception of us. There is no way someone will truly know much about someone's inner world - there are two barriers - and even if the person tries to express as much as possible, it then goes through the perceiver's interpretation, filtered through the perceiver's background, upbringing, philosophies, experiences, emotional state, and an abundant amount of influences. On the other hand, even we, ourselves, do not truly know what is within our inner worlds: we are only able to understand our consciousness, but not our subconscious and unconscious worlds. So again, fanfiction began to make sense to me.

In literary criticism there are scholars who will separate the work from the author, and try to take on as objective as a view as possible. But I think the author can be just as important and both the work and the author needs to be studied separately and then conjoined as one to grasp the fullest possible picture. I, the author, am also an object of study and am a part of my work.

Knowing there are people who will make efforts to study me and interpret me in their own ways is encouraging really - that as the author, or as a person, I may be interesting enough for such interpretation. In the end, it nurtured my confidence and I’m grateful to these writers and readers. What I hope for, is that they will continue to grow and using fanfiction as a form of inspiration, move on to create original characters.

What advice would you have for other writers about using different art forms and technologies to help tell their stories and promote them?
I believe we exist in a world of art and technology; where things cannot exist without one another. Art is the heart and soul of the world, technology is the tool necessary. Aside from message and content, even in practical terms, advertising cannot be without music, videography, animation, graphic design, textual content and onwards. Philosophy influences politics, politics influences literature, literature influences art, music influences literature, vice versa and onwards, like a complex and intricate spiderweb or rather, like a giant swimming pool of the collective human imagination. As a result, how can literature be separate from the different art forms? Books have book covers, authors have author websites, authors have been influenced by everything around them, absorbing without ever realizing - and all of which are part of identity. So first, I think we must embrace the idea of all arts working in conjunction. Doesn't that get you excited?

There are simple things we can do for our writing. The philosophy behind creative work is really about giving. Bonus content like songs or artwork that had inspired our writing can be provided - even a simple youtube link or image can enhance the reader's experience.

Authors are also working with book trailers nowadays, which is a great way to engage more audiences. However, it is important to showcase a trailer that really fits with the identity of the work and also looks professional. Sometimes, if resources are not available, or the writer doesn't know how to edit videos or know anyone who can, it is important to keep things simple. It's actually more intriguing if the writer uses ambiguous minimalistic imagery, like artistic photography of a coffee shop if that's a significant setting, a close shot of a coffee mug, maybe a silhouette, rather than getting images of actual people who might look like stock photos or are inconsistent pictures of different people that the writer tried to use to portray the narrative or events happening. The purpose of a trailer is to spark interest, not to tell the story per say.

In terms of design, both in a trailer and elsewhere, what can make or break a visual are actually two seemingly unrelated elements: the font and the music (for a trailer). Some images might be breathtaking but put some pink Courier New font on it and it suddenly becomes tacky. On the other hand, you could have nothing but a white page and put a fitting, well-placed, clean looking font on it - it would make aesthetic sense and an effective brand.

Society now is often invested in instantaneous delivery and reception, which means visual images are important. There is a huge saturation of information out there and as a result, according to statistics, internet surfers on average only spend a few seconds on each site. So if we don't have other forms of art involved with our writing, we are missing potential audiences who may just need something to stop them in their tracks and make them pick up our book. To attract attention, try innovative approaches and outstanding jarring things - blank white covers perhaps?

Beyond that, there is so much art everywhere - and in everybody too. You can always do it all yourself but personally, as a musician, illustrator and writer, I can't really find any time to do more than one thing. Once one thing gets on track, the other things become more peripheral. Writing and the writer side of life has been taking up most of my time lately. So, when we can't take things into our own hands of course we should reach out! There is much we don't know about one another, even perhaps our closest friends or family members. They might be doing something amazing and artistic!

So network and network lots and find out what people do. Nowadays, there are likely talented people who do some form of art for a living or as a hobby - even those who think they aren't any good! Remember artists are their own worst critics and many just don't know where to go with their talent, others are held down by the capitalist system (oops, not again). Be a leader and gather passionate budding talent around you and together create a platform. I think most will be genuinely interested with some encouragement.

Target who you'd like to ask. Find people who are on a similar level: same level of success, same interests, same wavelengths in terms of philosophies, content, genre or style, and so on. Keep in mind that it is a collaborative effort and there should be cohesion and unity, each part fitting together. Social media and technology are also useful, there are forums and groups that will have an abundance of hobbyists who make book covers, trailers, write music and onwards. Join some online networks if you don't know artists personally. It reminds me of a friend of mine, an independent film director and videographer, who would post on Kijiji and Craig's List recruiting talent. There are many aspiring actors, actresses, models and so on who volunteered for roles. After screening and interviews, then they would be selected and may even work free of charge as portfolio pieces. The same idea can apply and, in fact, I am considering doing that for Secondhand Memories for a little piece of jewellery I'd like made as a collector's item. A huge benefit of working with others is that it is mutually promoting and helpful for portfolios, it will share and increase followers and fans.

Thirdly, give contributors ample room to be creative and encourage creativity. But make sure to follow through and plan things accordingly with plenty of communication. From my experience as a web and graphic designer sometimes there are disagreements over direction between the client and artist, so in a collaborative project, constant communication, discussing and bouncing ideas, rough drafts, is vitally important!




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