The Doorbells of Florence is a “blook” of short fiction by Andrew Losowsky, in which each story is inspired, and accompanied, by a photograph of doorbells in Florence. It just won first place in the “fiction” category of the Lulu Blooker Prizes. A blook, by the way, is a printed book whose content was originally published online, usually in the form of a blog. Losowsky refers to his stories as “flicktion” because the photographs and stories first appeared on Flickr.

Lulu, if you haven’t noticed, is a company that facilitates this kind of publishing – a sort of vanity press for these modern times. Except unlike the vanity presses of yesteryear who left you with a basement full of unread copies of your completely unsellable novel (which you happily paid to have printed), Lulu is a “print on demand” service.

I like it because there’s no waste, aside from the time wasted by hundreds of people who go through the process of turning their blogs into books only to find that nobody aside from their mother and the person who’s stalking them has ordered a copy.

But clearly there are some blogs that are worth bookifying or (blookifying, as it were). Witness the YULBlog 7 party a few months ago that coincided with the launch of three printed books from local Montreal bloggers (all from Hamac-Carnets, which is neither a vanity press nor a “print on demand” outfit). And according to this BBC article from March 2007, “works of genuine literary merit are growing out of the ever-expanding blogosphere.”

I’m particularly attracted to The Doorbells of Florence because I like photographs and I am fascinated by literature that draws upon images. Also, it is exactly one year since Martine and I were in Italy. While there I had noticed the beauty of the doorbells in Florence (as well as the other Italian cities). I even photographed some, such as this one, in Florence:

Doorbells of Florence

…and this one in Venice (on Flickr).

But there’s a downside to the popularity of The Doorbells of Florence. Apparently, this idea of writing short fiction from photographs has really caught on because of its success. The BBC article I mentioned above claims that people are using the technique in writing workshops, and have adopted the word “flicktion” to refer to any fiction inspired by photographs.

That neologism is unfortunate because the concept behind it is not a new idea – people have used photographs as the inspiration for fiction for ages. But that word, “flicktion,” reduces it down to a Web 2.0 fad. Six months from now writing “flicktion” will seem passé, and in a year’s time no one will dare even attempt it.

That’s too bad, because it’s something I’ve been wanting to do. I have a small stack of photographs that I dug out of dusty old boxes the last time I was in Nova Scotia. Old family photos from the 1940s and 50s of remote relatives now dead, and unknown to those still living. But they are interesting photographs of mysterious people with hidden stories. I’ll likely never know the real stories, but perhaps I can honor the images by making some up. But I’ll have to wait at least three years, until “flicktion” is not only passé, but forgotten.

A man and a woman walking in the rain. We cannot and may never see their faces. They walk beneath an umbrella, stepping smartly away from us. The rain that falls around them is barely visible – recognized more by the sheen on the umbrella than by the actual shape of its descent. A warm rain – or cold. A summer rain – a winter fall of snow. All these are possibilities, but there is nothing here of certainty – only away. That is what we see. They walk – they direct their whole attention to departure.

From You Went Away, by Timothy Findley.

6 thoughts on “Flicktion

  1. I say you go on anyways. Don’t wait for Flicktion to become passé. As you say, this thing has been going on forever. I mean… illustration is exactly the same thing, but with drawing and painting rather than photography, right?

  2. This brings to mind the direction that was offered in my English/Writing classes back some 35+ yrs. ago… You know, back in the day of Pencil & Eraser 1.0. Students were asked to randomly select from a box of images and write compostions based on the image chosen. I remember there were varying levels of assistance offered. One module (I think that’s what they were called) held photos accompanied by a couple of scenarios offered that supported the image and set up the less imaginative with enough tools to get the job done. Another box held photos with a couple of interesting words that needed to be worked into the story. Another box was straight photos. I remember one in particular that was a moody B&W photo of a crumbling wall/ fence housing a rusting door that was just partially open. Once I started I couldn’t stop and pretty much submitted a Hardy Boys novel rather than the required 300 words. Flicktion, Schmicktion, Blork. Writing is what you’ll be doing. Use the medium of the day. Perhaps you’ll simply upload it to the chip embedded in my brain. Oooh, there’s a mental image, err, story… Gotta go!

  3. I agree with Jon–
    I worked with a guy once who had a *killer* plot for a novel that involved the Amber Room. He told me the plot in great detail as he was developing it–we went for lunch every day–and I was sure he had a best-seller.
    And then some other guy came along at around the same time and wrote a novel about the Amber Room–so what? Well, my acquaintance shelved his work. If anything, a competing work is going to increase interest. Why do you think they always have 3 pizza places, or 3 dollar stores, or 3 import stores, all on the same corner? If one is closed our out of business, people have another 2 to choose from. :-)

  4. Great doorbell photos! I love the shadows on the Florence one (and the art nouveau looking detailing around the Florence doorbells).

    The way I see it, inspiration comes from many places. ‘Flicktion’ may become passé, but for those who really want to unleash their creativity in the written form (and all other forms) will continue to use whatever process works for them. As you said yourself, it’s not exactly a new idea; it just has a new name.

    Creativity / inspiration are so personal and can be so fleeting. Why mess with something that works?

    Makes me want to put aside a few favorite photos to see what they can inspire.

  5. Who writes in a genre because it is “popular”? or that it has been “done before”? Not me. I could give a rats _____ if “flicktion” is fad or fave. It is a powerful form of expression to join image and words, whether it is words that enhance the image, images that enhance the words, or both.

    Anything that might induce people to explore their creativity and imagination is a good thing no matter what it is called. And as that happens some will take it a new unexpected direction.

    But then again, like Churchill, I am an optimist and see little use in being anything else.

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