5 Questions with CellStories founder, Dan Sinker

August 31, 2009

Tomorrow CellStories.net launches. It's a Chicago-based website unlike any we'd ever heard of, so we figured it was worthy of a "5 Questions." Here's CellStories founder Dan Sinker.

1. What is CellStories?
DS: CellStories is mobile website that offers a daily story available exclusively on your phone. That story can be a piece of short fiction, literary journalism, personal narrative, or any number of other possibilities. The key is that it's surprising and engaging and, ultimately, awesome. It's something great to read on your train ride or at lunch break or while drinking a beer on your couch at night. It started because I saw all these great pieces of writing starting to lose outlets--the short story is a great little thing, but short story collections are a hard sell, and lit journals are disappearing; a similar thing is happening to narrative journalism--it's so great and vital, but the places to find it are going away. And, at the same time, people are really becoming so comfortable with their phones as more-than-just-phones. So, there was a moment where that little lightbulb went off: AHA. And you know what? It feels so nice to read something you hold in your hands again. It just happens to be a screen instead of paper.
2. You've mentioned that CellStories are great for reading on the train. What's wrong with visiting a certain public radio station's website while commuting?
DS: I also think that CellStories is great for reading at lunch, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't also eat a sandwich! Amazingly, there are *all sorts* of things a person could do on their commute. A person could also spend their train ride looking at Cathy cartoons, talking too loudly on their phone, or even reading (gasp!) a book. So, you know, it's a pretty tight market but I think we can bring something nice to it. Besides, you guys have the locked-in-my-car commuting space locked up--leave something for the rest of us!
3. Is there a business model for the site or is it a purely artistic altruistic enterprise? DS: I ran a magazine called Punk Planet for 13 years whose top ad rate was, for many years, $120, so I probably have a different definition of "business model" than is traditionally accepted. But right now the point of CellStories is to put something amazing out into the world. If that turns into a way to make a modest amount of money, that's great. If not, I was able to raise the cost of hosting for over a year through a call out to interested parties, so we're good.
4. Who will be writing the stories? Will you be selecting each story yourself?
DS: Stories are coming from all over. Right now, with the first few months already selected, we've got stories from everyone from multi-novel authors to a Chicago cab driver. Because we're taking a generous approach to what we want to run--we're not tying our hands with regard to genre or format--we're able to really have a surprisingly varied collection of pieces. For now, I'm selecting each story that runs in CellStories. However, because 260 stories a year is a lot, I've been lucky enough to enlist a number of content partners, folks like Chicago's 2nd Story, or Barrelhouse Magazine from DC, or Joyland in Canada, who flow great pieces my way. Without partners like them, it'd be a lot harder to keep standards high. And, added bonus, they get to put some of their amazing writing in front of new people in a new way.
5. For CellStories visiters using iPhones, what musical accompaniment would you recommend?
DS: It's going to matter what the story is. This first week we've got stories about gun-toting Alaskans, a sociopathic astronaut on Mars, a vapid celebrity's brief moment of self-reflection, and Chili that makes people see the dead. So, clearly, you're going to want a pretty broad playlist.
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