Excerpts from the Chronicles of Pookie & JR – a sort of short story – in the Wild issue of Branch Magazine

Pookie strikes again. A sort-of short-story-like prose-esque version of Excerpts from the Chronicles of Pookie & JR appears in Branch Magazine’s Wild issue, guest-edited by Alison Strumberger, launched 1 April 2011 (no joke).

Branch Magazine - Wild

Excerpts from the Chronicles of Pookie & JR is a narrative documentation of the adventures Ingrid Bachmann’s hermit crab Pookie and I had during June of 2009. Pookie is not the wildest of animals, but he is pretty social, for a hermit crab. Pookie’s full name is Pookie 14. Pookie is the star of a Python story generator, and my latest book, GENERATION[S]. For backstory on this story on this story, visit: http://luckysoap.com/statements/storygenerations.html

Branch Magazine is a national quarterly online magazine devoted to exploring the rifts and overlaps of visual and literary arts while showcasing emerging and professional Canadian artists and creators. Branch features contemporary literature, art and design and aims to produce a compelling panoply of art in different media. Each issue is prompted by a particular theme and, depending on how artists interpret the subject, Branch strives to present how artistic minds may bring together a magpie’s nest arranged by its clash and compatibility

Best Behaviour – A Short Story Published in Dragnet Magazine

Dragnet Magazine Dragnet Magazine, a new online/eBook literary journal that “trawls the sea of stories for the best fiction,” has included a short story of mine in their very first issue. The story is called Best Behaviour. It’s fiction, obviously. Given my limited knowledge on the subject, the story is a short one, weighing in at just 879 words. It’s based on an even shorter story. My behaviour is improving in tiny increments year by year.

In 2005, the Montreal-based artist-run centre Dazibao – centre de photographies actuelles commissioned me to write the text for an exhibition called Pixelware, une sublime forgerie featuring new works of digital photography by Mathieu Bernard-Reymond, Sylvia Grace Borda, Sze Lin Pang and Penelope Umbrico. Dazibao encouraged a creative approach. Rather than produce a standard 1000-word catalogue essay, I wrote four 250-word stories, one for each artist.

In response to Penelope Umbrico’s series of photographs of images of mirrors and televisions take from mail-order catalogues, blown up to life size and hung on the wall again, I imagined a girl trapped – on display – in a catalogue-perfect living room trying not to ruin anything, scanning reflective surfaces searching for escape routes. This new story, Best Behaviour, speculates upon how the girl came to be in this room in the first place. I don’t think it’s giving too much of the story away to say that her overbearing yet massively insecure mother has a lot to do with it. Take the second paragraph, for example:

We’ve been living in a rented townhouse on the Forest Crescent for going on two years now, which is some kind of record for us. Twenty-two months we’ve baked in this avocado oven. Ninety-four weeks we’ve bathed in this goldenrod tub. Come over to this place that isn’t quite our place, and here’s the first thing my mother will tell you: “This wallpaper wasn’t our idea!” Floor-to-ceiling horns-of-plenty adorn the breakfast nook. A sandy seashell wainscot rings the bathroom. Renters can’t be choosers. We hang our pictures up wherever former tenants left nail holes.

This first issue of Dragnet Magazine contains some great stuff in it, including stories by Sheila Heti and Jacob Wren. You can read the issue on your computer, as a Website, Flipbook or eBook; on your tablet as a Flipbook or an eBook; or on your phone or eReader as an eBook. For links to all these formats, visit Dragnet Magazine online: http://dragnetmag.net/

To read Best Behaviour on the Dragnet Magazine website visit: http://dragnetmag.net/?q=content/j-r-carpenter-best-behaviour


CityFish is a hybrid word, title of a hybrid work, tale of a hybrid creature. A big fish story swallowing a small tale’s tail. A rhizome, a fable, an urban legend. Like an old wives’ tale, it’s long been told and never quite finished. Part classical parable, part children’s picture book, part literary fiction, part collage, part web art, a brand new hypermedia incarnation of CityFish can now be found online at: http://luckysoap.com/cityfish
CityFish || J. R. Carpenter
CityFish is very loosely based Aesop’s Town Mouse Country Mouse fable. Winters, Lynne freezes in Celsius in the fishing village of Brooklyn, Nova Scotia (Canada), a few minutes walk from a white sandy beach. Summers, she suffers her city cousins sweltering in Fahrenheit in Queens, New York (USA). Lynne knows everyone knows it’s supposed to be the other way around. Lynne is a fish out of water. In the country, her knowledge of the city separates her from her school of friends. In the city, her foreignness marks her as exotic. Meanwhile, the real city fish lie in scaly heaps on long ice-packed tables in hot and narrow Chinatown streets.

CityFish represents asynchronous relationships between people, places, perspectives and times through a horizontally scrolling browser window, suggestive of a panorama, a diorama, a horizon line, a skyline, a timeline, a Torah scroll. The panorama and the diorama have traditionally been used in museums and landscape photography to establish hierarchies of value and meaning. CityFish interrupts a seemingly linear narrative with poetic texts, quotations, Quicktime videos, DHTML animations, Google Maps and a myriad of visual images. Combining contemporary short fiction and hypermedia storytelling forms creates a new hybrid, a lo-fi web collage cabinet of curiosities.

CityFish was presented in Beta at Archive & Innovate, The 4th International Conference & Festival of the Electronic Literature Organization, at Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, June 3-6, 2010, and was presented as a work-in-progress at Interventions: Literary Practice at the Edge: A Gathering at The Banff Centre, in Banff, Alberta, Canada, February 18, 2010. The Coney Island videos were shot on location in 2005 and edited during the “Babel Babble Rabble: On Language and Art” thematic residency at The Banff Centre in 2006. A very, very, very early web-based version of CityFish was presented in an exhibition called IßWAS, at the Bavarian American Hotel in Nuremberg, Germany, July 1998. That version incorporated photographs shot on 35mm film in Chinatown, Toronto, circa 1996, a line drawing made around the same time, and a very short story of the same name written in 1995 from the first-person point of view of a fish.

CityFish is a work of fiction, the fish and I swear. Any resemblance to any mothers, uncles, aunts or cousins anywhere may be attributed to the common craziness of all families everywhere.

Wasn’t One Ocean on CellStories

My short story, Wasn’t One Ocean, was featured on CellStories August 4, 2010. CellStories publishes short fiction for mobile devices. A story a day. Free. In the palm of your hand. If you happen to have an iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, or a Google-Android based phone like Nexus One, MyTouch or Droid, that is. I don’t. But if you do, follow this link on your mobile device to read the story, and to share it with friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Reader: Wasn’t One Ocean by J.R. Carpenter is ready for you to read on your mobile device. Or, if you have a phone that can read QR codes, just zap the one below and your phone will take you right to Wasn’t One Ocean.

Wasn't One Ocean

“It took me years to notice that you didn’t love Montréal the way I did. You never made many friends here the way I did. But then, you never lost friends here the way I did either. When you said you wanted to move to Vancouver I thought: Wasn’t one ocean enough for you? At the time, neither one of us knew that no two oceans are alike.”
J. R. Carpenter, Wasn’t One Ocean

If, like me, you have a mobile phone so old it is barely capable of taking a decent photo of your dog, you may read Wasn’t One Ocean online in Carte Blanche, The Literary Review of the Quebec Writers’ Federation, where it was first published in 2005.

Carte Blanche

Two New Stories Added to In Absentia

I just added two new stories to in absentia, a site-specific web-based project about gentrification and its erasures in the Mile End neighbourhood of Montreal, an intimate and intensely personal investigation of a neighbourhood I lived and worked in for 17 years. in absentia was presented within Dare-Dare‘s Dis/location: projet d’articulation urbaine in 2008. Two weeks after the commencement of the project, Dare-Dare‘s mobile office was evicted from the parc sans nom, the Mile End vacant lot that had been its home for 2 years. A month after the completion of the project I was evicted from the Mile End apartment I lived in for 11 years, effectively forcing me out of the neighbourhood I lived in for 17 years and contributing to my decision to leave Montreal all together, after 19 years.

J. R. Carpenter || in absentiaIronically, and somewhat painfully, dislocation from the locus of this work resulted in many opportunities to present the work around the world. The Mile End represented in in absentia has been exhibited, presented, performed and taught by myself and by others in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Banff, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Providence, Finland, Sweden, Barcelona, Bristol, and other places I am unaware of. In each retelling of in absentia I am re-confronted with the questions that led me to creating the piece in the first place: What traces to people leave behind when they leave a place? What stories spring from absence?

Recently, I was invited to write about in absentia for Dislocation volet II de Dare-Dare, a publication celebrating projects supported by Dare-Dare during the two years they were located in Mile End. The publication project coordinator encouraged me to build on the stories in in absentia and/or write new ones. I other circumstance I would welcome the opportunity to creatively revisit a work in such a way. But in this case, I could not even begin to think about in absentia from the point of view of the person I was when I created the project. I am no longer that person. So much has changed.

The Dislocation volet II de Dare-Dare deadline is looming. I have been fretting. And then today, for whatever reason, two stories came to me – one, two, just like that. Like so many of the things I write, I had already written them, only I hadn’t noticed at the time. One comes from a series of facebook status updates I wrote whilst apartment hunting in Montreal last spring, phrased in the form of a game called: Which would you rather?

Let’s play where would you rather live: A) a god-forsaken place, or B) a dog-forsaken place? Trick question. I can live without god, not with out dog.

The full story can be read by clicking on the A Louer icon in the top left corner of the map on this page: http://luckysoap.com/inabsentia/alouer.html

The other comes from a blog post I wrote at the end of last year, reflecting on Reading Interrupted:

My suitcases and I spent the summer living out of other people’s bookshelves. It turns out that a friend close enough to put you up in a time of need tends to have a book collection close enough to your own to make you and your suitcases feel at home without a home.

The full story can be read by clicking on the books icon on the left side of the map on this page: http://luckysoap.com/inabsentia/perdu.html

I don’t know why the sudden arrival of these new stories from a place now past comes as a surprise to me. I have written of in absentia as a web “site” haunted by the stories of former residents of Mile End, a slightly fantastical world that is already lost but at the same time is still fully known by its inhabitants: a shared memory of the neighbourhood as it never really was but could have been. I am a former resident now, and these stories spring from that absence.

Story Generation(s) Launching at PW10, Arnolfini, Bristol

Sotry Generation(s) - J. R. CarpenterI am pleased to announce the launch of Story Generation(s) at PW10 Performance Writing Weekend at Arnolfini, Bristol, May 8-9, 2010. Story Generation(s) are a series of short fictions generated by Python scripts adapted (with permission) from two 1k story generators written by Nick Montfort: http://grandtextauto.org/2008/11/30/three-1k-story-generators/ .

I began tinkering with these story generators in June 2009. There are currently three stories in the series: Excerpts from the Chronicles of Pookie & JR, I’ve Died and Gone to Devon and Auto-Autobiography. This will be their first public exhibition.

Excerpts from the Chronicles of Pookie & JR documents my adventures with Ingrid Bachmann’s hermit crab Pookie, also known as Pookie 14, during June of 2009. Of Excerpts from the Chronicles of Pookie & JR, Nick Montfort writes:

“J. R. Carpenter, author of Words the Dog Knows, Entre Ville, The Cape, and other fine works of e-lit, print, and xerography, has delightfully re-purposed one of my 1k story generators to have it tell stories involving her and a hermit crab named Pookie. The program has grown to about 2k, but it uses the same simple (and surprisingly effective) method as my first generator does: It simply removes all but 5-9 sentences from a sequence, eliding some of what’s been written. Sometimes the reader is left to wonder who the hermit is.” Nick Montfort, http://nickm.com/post/2009/07/story-generation-with-pookie-and-jr/

In July 2009, NYC-based artist/programmer Ravi Rajakumar ported the Python script into Javascript to create this web browser friendly version of the Chronicles of Pookie & JR: http://luckysoap.com/pookieandjr/index.html

Here’s a screenshot from the Rajakumar iteration:

Excerpts from the Chronicles of Pookie & JR


I’ve Died and Gone to Devon re-purposes the same Python script as Excerpts from theChronicles of Pookie & JR to tell (and retell) the story of an arrival and first impression of Devon. Most of the sentences in this story were adapted from Twitter posts written during a five-week visit to Devon, August – September, 2009.
Here is one example of a story generated byI’ve Died and Gone to Devon:

I’ve died and gone to Devon.

In North America, roads this narrow wouldn’t even count as driveways.

If this is the wrong side of the road, I don’t care what’s right.

If this is the driveway, then I can’t wait to see the house.

We can’t hear the river from the house, but we can see it.

Everybody insists we’re by the seaside. I can smell but not see the sea.

Flotsam on a tidal river is a strange mixture of oak leaves and seaweed.

This is an achingly beautiful place to come across a little death.


Auto-Autobiography adapts a different Python story generator script by Montfort to generate a quasi-autobiographical story by segments. This script chooses sentences from pools of stock autobiographical statements: “I was born…” I come from…” “In retrospect…” This format was suggested to me by a passage from Anne-Marie MacDonald’s novel, As The Crow Flies:

“If you move around all your life, you can’t find where you come from on a map. All those places where you lived are just that: places. You don’t come from any of them; you come from a series of events. And those are mapped in memory. Contingent, precarious events, without the counterpane of place to muffle the knowledge of how unlikely we are. Almost not born at every turn. Without a place, events slow-tumbling through time become your roots. Stories shading into one another. You come from a plane crash. From a war that brought your parents together.”
Anne-Marie MacDonald, As The Crow Flies, Toronto: Knopf, 2003, page 36.

The notion of autobiographical veracity is undermined in Auto-Autobiography, by leaving key gender signifiers such as Mother/Father to computational chance.
Here is one example of a story generated by Auto-Autobiography:

Here is my story:

I was born in wedlock – for some reason, this surprises me.

I come from a war that brought my parents together.

My mother had a long memory and a short fuse.

I live in a wonderful house.

I work hard at not having to work too hard.

I wish I’d said that differently.

My best friend kept insisting I learn to play guitar.

In retrospect, she read way too many Russian novels.

I love it when we lie in bed plotting the downfall of our enemies.

Next year, let’s forget every single thing we learned this year.

In future, we will know many beginnings and no ends.

DOWNLOAD autobio.py

Viewing Instructions:

Download the python file to your desktop and unzip. On a Mac or Linux system, you can run the story generator by opening a Terminal Window, typing “cd Desktop”, and typing “python filename.py”. Hint: look for Terminal in your Utilities folder. These Python story generator runs on Windows, too, but you will probably need to install Python first: version 2.6.5. Once Python is installed you can double click on the file and it will automatically launch and run in the terminal window. Every time you press ENTER a new version of the story will appear.

Three Stories in Ryga: A Journal of Provocations

Three of my short stories appear in the inaugural issue of Ryga: A journal of Provocations, a new publication of The Ryga Initiative at Okanagan College, in association with the Okanagan Institute.

Ryga: A Journal of Provocations consists of a single or multiple works by writers whose work the editor considers worthy of readers’ attention. It is published as a 275-page book, on good quality recycled paper, with a full colour laminated cover, 4 times a year, and offered for sale at $20 each through the book and periodical trade, and on http://www.ryga.ca/.

Ryga editor Sean Johnston writes:

Carpenter’s quietly moving stories are about endurance in the wake of tragedy. They’re about the impossibility of fully understanding the world we live in. Bodies of water dominate the stories and the constant, rhythmic movement between the literal and the figurative undersurface emphasizes the fragility of human life.

The narrator in “Truth, Dare, Double-Dare, Promise to Repeat,” for instance, longs for the inevitable sexual knowledge of adulthood, but the sinister nature of the impaired vision, the silty water where she and her friends swim, makes the future dark and dangerous.

. . . . .

The Saga of Pookie & JR Continues

Back in June I adapted Nick Montfort’s 1k Python story generator to document my adventures with Ingrid Bachmann’s hermit crab Pookie in The Chronicles of Pookie & JR: http://luckysoap.com/lapsuslinguae/2009/06/excerpts-from-the-chronicles-of-pookie-jr/

Nick went on to post about it on his blog, Post Position: http://nickm.com/post/2009/07/story-generation-with-pookie-and-jr/ As Nick astutely notes,

Sometimes the reader is left to wonder who the hermit is.

Now NYC-based artist/programmer Ravi Rajakumar has ported the Python script into Javascript to create this web browser friendly version of the Chronicles of Pookie & JR: http://luckysoap.com/pookieandjr/index.html

Here’s a screenshot from the Rajakumar iteration:

Every time you click “To be continued…” a new version of the story is generated.
. . . . .

A Book-ish Novel: Transmediation in Words the Dog Knows at MiT6, April 24, 2009

I will be presenting a paper called “A Book-ish Novel: Transmediation in Words the Dog Knows” at MiT6: Stone and Papyrus, Storage and Transmission, an international conference taking place at MIT April 23-27, 2009. In this paper I will trace the paths that select portions of my first novel, Words the Dog Knows, have traveled: from ear to eye to pen to paper to computer to printer to publisher to video to audio to web to eye to ear and back to pen again, with the novel’s precursive zines and web-based iterations as visual aides.

J. R. Carpenter, A Book-ish Novel: Transmediation in Words the Dog Knows
Friday, April 24, 2009, 2:30-4 room 66-168 (campus map).

MiT6: Stone and Papyrus, Storage and Transmission, MIT April 23-27, 2009.

In his seminal essay “The Bias of Communication” Harold Innis distinguishes between time-based and space-based media. Time-based media such as stone or clay, Innis agues, can be seen as durable, while space-based media such as paper or papyrus can be understood as portable, more fragile than stone but more powerful because capable of transmission, diffusion, connections across space.

Speculating on this distinction, Innis develops an account of civilization grounded in the ways in which media forms shape trade, religion, government, economic and social structures, and the arts. Our current era of prolonged and profound transition is surely as media-driven as the historical cultures Innis describes.

His division between the durable and the portable is perhaps problematic in the age of the computer, but similar tensions define our contemporary situation. Digital communications have increased exponentially the speed with which information circulates. Moore’s Law continues to hold, and with it a doubling of memory capacity every two years; we are poised to reach transmission speeds of 100 terabits per second, or something akin to transmitting the entire printed contents of the Library of Congress in under five seconds.

Such developments are simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. They profoundly challenge efforts to maintain access to the vast printed and audio-visual inheritance of analog culture as well as efforts to understand and preserve the immense, enlarging universe of text, image and sound available in cyberspace. What are the implications of these trends for historians who seek to understand the place of media in our own culture?

What challenges confront librarians and archivists who must supervise the migration of print culture to digital formats and who must also find ways to preserve and catalogue the vast and increasing range of words and images generated by new technologies? How are shifts in distribution and circulation affecting the stories we tell, the art we produce, the social structures and policies we construct?

What are the implications of this tension between storage and transmission for education, for individual and national identities, for notions of what is public and what is private?

The first Media in Transition conference was held in 1999 and marked the launch of the MIT graduate program in Comparative Media Studies. Since then, four bi-annual conferences have been held, co-sponsored by CMS and the MIT Communications Forum, with each new conference generating a more internationally diverse audience than its predecessor.

I have presented at two previous Media in Transition conferences:

MiT4: the work of stories (2005)

MiT5: creativity, ownership and collaboration in the digital age (2007)
. . . . .

WORDS THE DOG KNOWS wins Best English Book – Expozine Alternative Press Awards

My first novel, Words the Dog Knows (Conundrum Press, 2008), won Best English Book at the Expozine Alternative Press Awards Gala held Tuesday, March 3 at Casa del Popolo, 4873 St-Laurent in Montreal. Six prizes were awarded, recognizing the best English and French books, comics and zines sold at Expozine, Montreal’s annual small press, comic and zine fair.

Expozine 2008 took place on Saturday, November 29 and Sunday, November 30, 2008. By far the largest Expozine ever, this 7th edition saw close to 300 exhibitors and 15 000 visitors. Each exhibitor was asked to submit one publication to the Expozine Alternative Press Awards. 36 titles were short-listed. The short list for Best English Book included some of my favourite people. I’m so glad I was nominated – otherwise I would have been tough deciding whom to root for.

Winners were chosen by an esteemed panel of judges. Here’s what they had to say about Words the Dog Knows:

With fluid, unpretentious prose scattered with humour, Carpenter imparts wisdom about daily life – sometimes between the lines – in this picturesque and gentle novel.

Huge thanks to the judges, to Andy Brown and Maya Merrick at Conundrum Press, and to Lousi Rastilli, Billy Mavreas and everyone else who makes Expozine happen.
. . . . .