Last month, I invited Significant Objects readers to contribute to The Ballad of Cocky the Fox, a brilliant novel-in-progress by James Parker (who contributed a Kitty Plate story to SO v1) that Matthew Battles and I were hoping to serialize at HiLobrow.com.
Parker writes cultural commentary and criticism for The Boston Globe and the Atlantic Monthly (where he is a contributing editor); what excites readers is, as Battles has put it, “the sheer word-glamor of his prose — his sentences crackle, his paragraphs are inviting little basements of noise and shadow brimming with pounding beats and possibility.” So a few years ago, when he started what was supposed to be his debut novel, The Ballad of Cocky the Fox, we knew it would be unlike anything else: no waistcoats, no mad farmers, no furry japes for Parker’s creatures; they’re four-legged desperadoes living on the feral edge. Alas, the project ran into difficulties — the story is a strange one, its audience hard to discern, its place in the commoditized channels of contemporary writing uncertain. Lacking an editorial target or a clear readership, James’s attention for the project ebbed.
Battles and I were having breakfast with Parker at a Boston diner one morning, this winter, talking about how we like the rhythms of the serialized 19th-century novel; and how we appreciate the way it thumbs its nose at the (sterile to Battles’ thinking) classical unities championed by Aristotle. That’s when we had an “aha” moment. The serial is kindly disposed to kind of adventure-mongering picaresque that Parker’s Cocky tale wants to be. And we had an inkling that the serial form might get his authorial juices flowing: with it we could offer Parker deadline pressure, editorial expectations, and the promise of an audience hungry for each new chapter.
Of course, money is another reason that many journalists don’t produce fiction, but HiLobrow’s sponsorships barely cover the standard costs of keeping a website. Then we thought of Kickstarter, the funding platform for creative projects. We decided that Kickstarter could do more than simply raise funds; it also could help us to build a community of readers and fans for Parker’s book. By signing on to back the project, our readers are literally invested in the outcome. Through updates that goad and challenge, we’ve built a sense of excitement around the project — cracking open the black box of publishing, making it an adventure for everyone involved.
We wanted to raise $4,000 to cover the costs of serializing and then printing the novel. So we posted a video to Kickstarter, in which James explained the project. We offered rewards to donors: a biweekly newsletter, that would appear during the run of the serial; a signed copy of the book’s first edition; a Cocky t-shirt; your name in the book’s acknowledgments; and (for $250) a limited-edition Cocky print/poem. As of midnight on April 14th, we’d raised over $4,000.
On Thursday morning, we published the first installment of The Ballad of Cocky the Fox. Check it out! We think you’ll dig it.
So — thanks, Significant Objects readers, for helping fund this project, and for spreading the word! Please continue to support The Ballad of Cocky the Fox by reading it every other week, and by telling your friends about it. The novel’s archive page is here.