The story of ‘The Amazing Story Generator’

[Alyson Kuhn] The Amazing Story Generator offers exactly my kind of amusement. The project was generated by Jay Sacher and published by Chronicle Books. I have been waiting to write about this since the moment I saw it at the National Stationery Show back in May. I was so excited, I made an opening sentence on the spot. Of course it involved mail!

The cover illustration is the handiwork of Jim Tierney.

The book consists of 59 story pages, each with an opening sentence cut in thirds. Every top works with every middle and every bottom. This makes for 59 tops x 59 middles x 59 bottoms, for a total of 205,379 mix-and-match opening sentences.

Author Jay Sacher in his home office in Portland, Me.

Jay Sacher points out, “The hardest thing was making sure that everything ‘agrees.’ Grammatically, all of these sentences follow somewhat the same structure, because they all have to be interchangeable. I couldn’t, for example, have a plural subject. So, instead of ‘three brothers, it needed to be ‘the youngest of three brothers.'”

Interlocking puzzle pieces printed on the backs are a great unifying motif.

I ask Sacher for a handful of his favorites, and he offers:
• Vowing not to bathe for entire year / a Nobel prizewinning physicist / becomes the subject of a documentary film.
• On vacation for the first time in years / a small-town mayor / finds a 17th century treasure map.
• Following a disastrous job interview / an avid comic book collector/ is trapped in an abandoned gold mine.
• Blinded during a freak lightning strike / the heir to an oil fortune / plans the perfect murder.

I like “the heir to an oil fortune,” but I change the top and the bottom.

Next, I could change the subject to “a freelance assassin” or “a 400-year-old vampire.”

Sacher comments, “It’s the bottom, the punch line, where you can be a little more playful. If you are playful at the top, in the set-up, it may not work for every combination. I wrote extra options and let my editor at Chronicle Books choose. Every possibility has to be kid-friendly: It can be suggestive, but not overly bawdy.”

Designer Neil Egan even laid out the title page so it makes a clever sentence.

Sacher volunteers with The Telling Room in Portland, a nonprofit writing center that goes into schools to help students learn to tell stories. Volunteers facilitate various writing workshops both in schools and at The Telling Room’s downtown space. As soon as he received his advance copies of The Amazing Story Generator, Sacher donated one to The Telling Room’s staff, with the hopes that it will be an aid for storytelling exercises. At the very least, he hopes it will provide a few laughs during the school year.

Flippin’ amazing: It occurs to me to wonder how all these third-cut pages get into the book.

I cannot imagine cutting equipment that can slice the pages into thirds once they are in the wire-o binding…because the blades would cut into the front or back cover. So how and when do they get cut? I asked Erin Thacker at Chronicle Books to enlighten us. (Her official title is Production Lead, Format Publishing.) It turns out that the wire-o holes are punched into the book block, and then the block is trimmed into three equal sections. So far, so mechanical. Next, the semi-concealed wire-o (it’s semi-concealed because it only shows on the back cover) is inserted into the holes in the case, by hand, and then the three sections are slid into the wire-o, all by hand. That’s an amazing story!

The back cover, complete with three energetic exclamation points!

Author photo: Suzanne LaGasa. All other photos: Michael Carabetta.

Jay Sacher, a former editor at Chronicle Books, also draws comics. He is currently designing and illustrating a home décor book. You can view his work at www.jaysacher.com.

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