Editor seeks lasting stories for disposable formats

· The Pulse

For nearly 10 years, Jason Lee Norman has been curating flash fiction and putting it out into the world in unconventional places, like coffee sleeves and beer cans. Now he's tweaking one of his long-running projects, so he can spend more time on stories and less on distribution.

To get his #yegwords coffee sleeves project off the ground, Norman took to buying the cardboard sleeves in bulk, getting very short stories by local writers printed on them, and distributing them to participating cafés himself. Along the way, he got some grant money, but the program has shrunk quite a bit lately.

To make it more sustainable, Norman is looking to shift #yegwords into something he does for just one business, as a way to bolster its marketing.

"I am working with one of the cafés about doing just that, about keeping the coffee sleeves going but branding them to that specific café," Norman said. "It's something that I wanted to get ahead of it at the time, which was offer branded stuff, but it's so difficult with just me trying to do stuff on my own."

Norman likened this approach to his ongoing collaboration with Blindman Brewing. It publishes stories and poems on cans of its Super Session Ale, which are also featured on CKUA's Session Stories. Blindman Brewing handles the design, printing, and ordering, allowing Norman to focus on collecting and preparing the stories that appear on the cans.

The deadline for submissions for the next round of Session Stories is Sept. 23. Winter is the theme, and the story or poem must be no more than 200 words.

Lizzie Derksen's work has appeared on the #yegwords coffee sleeves, on the Blindman beer cans, and in the short story vending machine that Norman got set up at the Edmonton International Airport.

"I think that part of what characterizes this type of publishing is the extremely wide audience that it's trying to reach," she told Taproot. "As a writer, you really have no demographics to aim for, especially the one at the airport. That's literally everyone."

A brown paper coffee sleeve with a short story called Zoltar by Mona Bacon printed on it

Mona Bacon's short story "Zoltar" appeared in an early round of the #yegwords coffee sleeves project. (Karen Unland)

It's difficult, but not impossible, to write a story for this short format and uncertain audience, she said.

"I suspect the people reading the stories on the backs of beer cans are already dedicated readers in other contexts. This doesn't make the beer cans 'bad,' but I think of this form of publishing as more of a fun game for people whose reading and writing lives are already well-established."

A good story is a good story, Norman said, but there are things he looks for in submissions that will make the art stick with someone longer than it takes to finish their drink.

"It has to get a lot done in a short period of time. I think you want a voice that people will remember in one way or the other," he suggested.

"I think a crucial thing for even a short story that isn't on a beer can or something, is you want that ending to really stay with people. That's the thing that's going to make them think about it later in the day, or even days or weeks later. They're going to remember that, and that feeling, and then hopefully they want to just go back right away again."

Norman also publishes stories in more conventional formats. Issue 10 of Funicular Magazine will be released on Oct. 27.