11 Moments At The 2014 Twitter Fiction Festival

From a new book of the Bible and a tale told in Bollywood movie screenshots to an 8-bit illustrated children’s story, experiments in micro-storytelling abounded at the 2014 Twitter Fiction Festival.


Reminiscent of Christian Marclay’s The Clock, every minute for 24 hours, the mysterious folks behind @LITclock tweeted excerpts of literature mentioning the time corresponding to each tweet.

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The message had been left by that Denver caller, at 12:04 am., today's date—Linda Howard—http://t.co/KUJMmBeutj—#twitterfiction

— TIME (@LITclock)
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2 days later 12:05 AM Thurs would be linked with 12:05 AM Fri...end of timeshaft—Roger Macbride Allen—http://t.co/23eNGoZI8h—#twitterfiction

— TIME (@LITclock)
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Author of Red Moon and The Wilding, Benjamin Percy got real meta up in Twitter with a horror story scarier than the hit 1995 film The Net.

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This feed is about to grow bigger. In your mind𠅊nd in the minds of others.

— Benjamin Percy (@Benjamin_Percy)
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You will RT this feed. And then others will RT. And then an RT will become an RT, RT, RT, RT. RTRTRTRTRTRTRTRTRTRTRT

— Benjamin Percy (@Benjamin_Percy)
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An RT is like spit on a doorknob, fecal matter on a playground slide, a cough that spreads into a virus.

— Benjamin Percy (@Benjamin_Percy)
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An MT is a mutation we cannot control.

— Benjamin Percy (@Benjamin_Percy)
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Which makes Benjamin_Percy patient zero. RIP. LOL. YOLO.

— Benjamin Percy (@Benjamin_Percy)
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You can think of this as a virus or as a spell, an incantation, a collection of ciphers, a protest song that brings about change....

— Benjamin Percy (@Benjamin_Percy)
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...Or a possession.

— Benjamin Percy (@Benjamin_Percy)
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Right now you are wondering: If Benjamin_Percy is dead, then who is writing this? Who are we?

— Benjamin Percy (@Benjamin_Percy)
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There is an Internet below the Internet.

— Benjamin Percy (@Benjamin_Percy)
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How did you go about creating your Twitter story?

Ben Percy: I wanted to write something that suited the medium, that wasn’t simply a story delivered in bite-size nuggets. We’re constantly threatened online with the possibility of infection. Every website is shoving cookies or bots or trojans onto our hard drives. Whenever my laptop starts to breathe heavily, chug slowly, I’m certain I’ve downloaded some virus that is chewing all of my files to pieces and offloading my credit card information. I thought I’d play off that fear and try to create something that maybe didn’t send people screaming into the streets, but inspired some paranoia akin to the famous Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” broadcast.

What author (dead or alive) do you think would rock Twitter fiction?

BP: I suppose Dickens, since he was the king of serialized fiction.

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God graced Twitter with His presence by tweeting a new book of the Bible: THE BOOK OF BIEB: The Greatest Story Ever Tweeted. Indeed it was.

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— God (@TheTweetOfGod)
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1 In the beginning was Bieb, and the Bieb was with God, and the Bieb was God.

— God (@TheTweetOfGod)
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2 By Bieb was he known; and also the Blessed Bieb; and Bieb in the Woods, Bieb in Toyland, and Bieb: Pig in the City.

— God (@TheTweetOfGod)
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3 He was the only begotten Son (at the time) of the Father, Jeremy Jack Bieber, whose skin bore motley etchings of many a mall-graven image.

— God (@TheTweetOfGod)
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4 Yet the skin of the Son (at the time) was devoid of all markings, for he was the Word made flesh: lithe, hairless, twink-y flesh.

— God (@TheTweetOfGod)
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Author of the upcoming debut novel (May 13) Cutting Teeth, Julia Fierro took us to Eden, a ramshackle beach house where a small group of thirtysomething couples and their young children gathered for a weekend filled with parental sexual tension, doomsdaying, and Dalai Lama motivational quotes.

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Must escape the group w/o totally upsetting Wyatt. He’s so sweet & accepting. Loves these weirdos & their kids. #ignoranceisbliss

— Nicole DiFranco (@nicole_difranco)
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For real, uptight mommy Nicole is bananas. Cuckoo. She goes outside & checks whatevers in her car trunk like four times/hour.

— Tiffany Zelinsky (@Tiffs_Riffs)
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my OCD is totally acting up out here. I keep having to check that the Go Bags are in the trunk, even though I KNOW they’re there.

— Nicole DiFranco (@nicole_difranco)
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I mean WHAT does she have in there?? Pounds of coke? If only. JK! My wild party days are over. ;) #mommytamed

— Tiffany Zelinsky (@Tiffs_Riffs)
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Worst part of OCD is knowing you’re acting crazy and not being able to stop it. Ugh, I shouldn’t even be sharing all of this!

— Nicole DiFranco (@nicole_difranco)
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Poor mommy Nicole suffers fear. I can smell it in her sweat. If only she hears Dalai Lama’s words, Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.

— Tenzin Choden (@livenpeaceTibet)
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NOT safe here. I can feel it. Not just the #webbot prediction. Look! A child safety hazard if I’ve ever seen one!

— Nicole DiFranco (@nicole_difranco)
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The so-called beachhouse is falling apart. NOT the spot to get stuck w/irresponsible strangers if #webbot catastrophic event DOES happen

— Nicole DiFranco (@nicole_difranco)
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OMG this daddy Rick guy is wasted. Hahahaha #whendadsdrink

— Tiffany Zelinsky (@Tiffs_Riffs)
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How did you create your Twitter story?

Julia Fierro: I used characters from my novel, Cutting Teeth. What was most fun about that was that I knew them so well already. Creating bios, avatars, and personalities for my characters on Twitter — each of the four characters had their own handle — was so fun.

Then I used the most climactic storyline from my novel and had the characters tweeting as if they were all at the same beach house for four days. In the book, the characters know each other, but for the Twitter story I made them strangers who all just happened to be at the same beach house timeshare. That way they wouldn’t see each other’s tweets.

What was most challenging was delivering a lot of info through tweets in a way that felt authentic. It was a great exercise for me as a writer, and fun, and I received such an amazing response from readers.

I’m most satisfied with the way in which I was able to use Twitter and its natural storytelling structure, manipulating the aspects of Twitter that made that natural storytelling challenging, so, I hope, it felt like a real, live story, and in real time, revealed over four days.

What author (dead or alive) do you think would rock Twitter fiction?

JF: Hmmm. This is a good one. I think Vonnegut would rock Twitter fiction, along with Shirley Jackson! Maybe a duet?

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Using screenshots from more than 15 Bollywood movies, writer and digital director for the city of Chicago Ankur Thakkar tweeted a story about love, heartbreak, and unexplained musical interludes.

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She told me she was getting married. And you wouldn't believe to whom. #twitterfiction

— Ankur (@ankurthakkar)
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You recognize him, right? #twitterfiction

— Ankur (@ankurthakkar)
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That's right. #twitterfiction

— Ankur (@ankurthakkar)
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I mean, COME ON. #twitterfiction

— Ankur (@ankurthakkar)
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He was a vastly better dancer than me. #twitterfiction

— Ankur (@ankurthakkar)
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— Ankur (@ankurthakkar)
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— Ankur (@ankurthakkar)
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How did you go about creating your Twitter story?

Ankur Thakkar: I don’t speak Hindi and so I’ve always needed subtitles to understand Bollywood films. Over the years, I noticed the sometimes hilarious juxtaposition between the image and the text, a disparity I exploited for my most popular Buzzfeed post. I mean, a subtitled image is already internet-optimized, right? I knew I could create fun lists, but telling a story is obviously much more difficult. I watched 15 movies over the past few weeks and began grabbing screenshots I enjoyed until a narrative formed.

How did you enjoy the festival?

AT: The festival itself has been amazing. I’ve admired real-time storytelling since Dan Sinker’s incredible @mayoremanuel saga. Now that I’m finished, I’m looking forward to catching up and reading the other stories from this year.

What author (dead or alive) do you think would rock Twitter fiction?

AT: I would love to experience F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tweets for some Jazz-Age millennial-like insights into all the trouble the youth are getting into.

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Writer/artist/bartender from an alternate universe Dugaldo Estrada tweeted 50 lovely illustrated micro-stories throughout the festival.

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When he first began seeing with his third eye he made sure to always keep one eye closely fixed to his home reality.

— Dugaldo Estrada (@Dugaldo)
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On Sundays she kept it simple. Hair pulled back. No make up. T-shirt and little shorts. I only liked her on Sundays.

— Dugaldo Estrada (@Dugaldo)
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I accidentally pressed black and white and thought no no no there you are. This is you. Free from color now. Alive.

— Dugaldo Estrada (@Dugaldo)
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There's a race in the park. I can hear the crowd cheering on loved ones. I like to think they're cheering for me.

— Dugaldo Estrada (@Dugaldo)
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.@Jnetbraz loved hair and makeup so much that she continued to do it right through the zombie apocalypse.

— Dugaldo Estrada (@Dugaldo)
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Novelist, journalist, and essayist Chris Arnold used Vine, text message screenshots, videos, photos, poetry, weather maps, and more to take us inside an airport paralyzed by winter storm Vulcan.

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Vulcan breaks snowfall records overnight, lingers in Northeast. Severe travel hazards and delays persist Thursday.

— U.S. Meteorology (@MeteorologyNow)
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Coffee line at the Time Cafe in Terminal B is OUTRAGEOUS. I'd snap a picture, but nobody deserves to be photographed looking so tired.

— Real Crew Life (@RealCrewLife)
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Man In airport lounge shouting into phone unaware boarding pass stuck between phone and ear.#boardingfail

— Rahul Bose (@RahulBose1)
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@DreamAirHelp Been on phone with your INCOMPETNT service center for almost 2 hours!!! Does #DreamAir have management? A strategy? Anything?

— Alvin St. Thomas (@AlvinStThomas)
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Due to extremely hazardous roads, staff is limited this morning. Ground transportation, runway, retail and custodial capacity limited.

— NEX Airport (@NEX_Airport)
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All passengers please take the following measures: 1. Leave no bag unattended 2. Share charging stations 3. Be patient with airport staff

— NEX Airport (@NEX_Airport)
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so this is happening. and now my phone is almost dead.

— Anthony Palalay (@AnthonyPalalay)
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How did you use Twitter to tell the story?

Chris Arnold: The festival website suggested a few broad categories of Twitter Ffction: parody accounts, crowdsourcing, images/Vine, narrative/poetry, and multiple characters/handles. I figured I’d try a story that could mix a little bit of everything.

How was the process of creating the story?

CA: I was just as interested in building a place as I was in constructing a plot because at times Twitter can feel like an actual place, and it seemed like a rigid plot would feel overdetermined. Many people I follow go on Twitter binges when they’re at the airport, especially during long layovers, so an airport seemed like a natural fit.

I quickly realized that in addition to the time constraint — 48 hours with three featured hours — I’d need a length constraint to force me to make choices. In the spirit of Twitter, I decided to limit the story in my main feed to 140 tweets, although I sent many more to readers who interacted with my characters.

To begin, I sketched out the 10 characters/entities that would be central to the story. I spent a few days building their profiles, following accounts I thought they might follow, and reading their feeds to get a sense of their worlds and voices. I also set up searches for crowdsourced content: #PolarVortex, “stuck in airport,” and so forth.

What author (dead or alive) do you think would rock Twitter fiction?

CA: I like to think that if the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa could be here with us in the 21st century, he’d cultivate a lot of fictional Twitter accounts.

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Bill Roorbach, author of eight books of fiction and nonfiction, including Life Among Giants, explored a woman’s romantic past through tweets and a Ouija board.

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[Jimmy's father] Satan is among us! Satan in a crop top and skinny jeans! Shame! #RemedyForLove

— Bill Roorbach (@billroorbach)
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[Jimmy] Satan is among us tonight! I see Satan among us! #RemedyForLove

— Bill Roorbach (@billroorbach)
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[Jimmy] Come be healed girl, kicking and screaming, sure. Come back here behind this curtain. Cheer for her soul, crowd. #RemedyForLove

— Bill Roorbach (@billroorbach)
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[Mom via solo Ouija] James T LaRoque is YES NO YES NO YES not the last Tattoo will be forever though YES NO YES NO Goodbye #RemedyForLove

— Bill Roorbach (@billroorbach)
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[Rachel's letter] I'm sorry baby. Juancarlo and me, we got married. So it's not what you think but true love. Fuck college! #RemedyForLove

— Bill Roorbach (@billroorbach)
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How did you go about creating your Twitter story?

Bill Roorbach: I made my story in advance and scheduled the tweets, then watched it unfold alarmed, as I like to revise. So in the heat of the tweet, there I was, calling up scheduled tweets and changing them, also the story. Tweets came in the wrong order too, and bunched unpredictably — it was like playing music back in the day — fun, that is, and weird.

What author (dead or alive) do you think would rock Twitter fiction?

BR: Fielding Dawson, Virginia Woolf, Steven Dixon. What a trio that would be!

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Eric Smith, author of The Geek’s Guide to Dating and forthcoming young adult novel Inked, created an adorable, tweetable 8-bit story with help from illustrator Juan Carlos Solon.

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Late on one Thursday afternoon, the phone rang right on cue...

— Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks)
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His Mom arrived, she walked right in, and sighed with the school nurse...

— Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks)
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“Mom, I don't know,” her son replied, “Outside or in the gym...

— Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks)
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So, his Mom took him home and hugged him tightly for a while...

— Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks)
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There in the nurse’s office, where he sat so low and tired...

— Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks)
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“Well, A.J. never has a lunch, and Chris, he missed his Dad...

— Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks)
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It seemed his world was full of hurt, he knew not what to do...

— Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks)
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“You keep it up,” his mother said, 𠇊nd I’ll be here, okay...

— Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks)
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The End.

— Eric Smith (@ericsmithrocks)
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How did you go about creating your Twitter story?

Eric Smith: Creating the story with Juan was easy. He’s a fantastic illustrator, and after he worked on my book with Quirk last year, we became fast friends. We even hung out the weekend I proposed to my now fiancée, while we were in Toronto. BFFs. Totes.

We emailed back and forth a lot, I shared the story with him, and he nailed it on the first try. He’s just that good. Also, we definitely think alike. If life were Pacific Rim, we’d pilot a giant robot together.

P.S.: I also just put the finished story in full up on my blog, with the animated GIFs I couldn’t use on Twitter.

What author (dead or alive) do you think would rock Twitter fiction?

ES: Probably Michael Crichton. I was pretty crushed when he passed away a few years ago, and I feel like he would have LOVED this kind of thing.

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“Gas does not exist, except in champagne.” Author of The Vacationers (out May 29), Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, and Other People We Married, Emma Straub tweeted a hilarious second-person guide to vacationing with a man you’ve just started sleeping with (and might not actually like).

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Change into your bathing suit as if you are being timed, and only the person with the fastest time will be allowed to live.

— Emma Straub (@emmastraub)
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Notice that he is doing the same thing on the other side of the bed. He wobbles on the dismount, his pale flesh like wheat-colored Jell-O.

— Emma Straub (@emmastraub)
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You find this endearing.

— Emma Straub (@emmastraub)
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Put on your oversized sunhat, your oversized sunglasses. He asks if you are in hiding, and you consider the ways in which it is true.

— Emma Straub (@emmastraub)
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He deserves better, but you are already here. Offer a kiss on the way to the pool.

— Emma Straub (@emmastraub)
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Journalist Adam Popescu just had to go and sneak some nonfiction into the fest with a harrowing account of his 18,000-foot journey to Mt. Everest Base Camp.

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The tired face of success at the end of my trek, 17,600 ft above sea level. Too tired to smile :/ #HighAltitude

— Adam Popescu (@adampopescu)
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I take one of my flags and leave it as a memento. We were here.

— Adam Popescu (@adampopescu)
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— Adam Popescu (@adampopescu)
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One more photo with Suman, the man who kept me alive.

— Adam Popescu (@adampopescu)
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I collect a few rocks to remember this place, then we turn to head back. The shaky Aussies are in front of us. I hope they will be all right

— Adam Popescu (@adampopescu)
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The sun is going down fast, but they still push forward.

— Adam Popescu (@adampopescu)
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How did you go about creating your Twitter story?

Adam Popescu: I wrote this story in a Moleskine journal on the side of a mountain in December when I traveled to Everest for the BBC. I came back and realized I had a book. I transcribed, added, and am editing the piece now.

This festival, and writing bite-sized pieces of narrative, which are hopefully compelling, has been an experiment in a new era of literature. I’m proud to have been part of it.

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Lara Prescott lives in Maryland and is currently at work on a novel. You can read her featured Twitter Fiction Festival story here.

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