BOSTON — If you have a smartphone, then starting on Saturday, as part of the Boston Book Festival, you’ll be able to take part in a mobile literary adventure.
It’s called “PerambuLit” because you’ll perambulate the streets of the Back Bay while listening to a different work of literature, depending on which path you take. You just download an app, start walking, and use your phone to hear a story that changes with your location.
Eight Boston-area writers contributed and WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with two of them: Henriette Lazaridis Power and Ethan Gilsdorf. She started by asking if you have to be in Copley Square, where the festival is being held, to listen to the start of the story:
Henriette Power: They don’t have to be right there. But it is best if they stand on the front steps of the Boston Public Library, because that’s where the very first segment begins.
Sacha Pfeiffer: And then, as you walk, does the story automatically change with you as you change location? Or do you have to tap something into your smartphone to tell it you’re moving?
Power: When you finish the end of a segment, you’ll see another little pin pop up on your map. And you’ll tap that. And it’ll start playing the next segment.
Let’s set the scene for the story that people will hear. It’s about a couple that met on an online dating site, and they’re now on their first date. For the first date, they’re using a Groupon to go and have high tea at the Boston Public Library. Let’s listen to the end of the first segment, which you recorded, Henriette. Here’s the main character deciding whether to stay on her date with Johann:
It’s as he’s reaching into the pocket of his wrinkled coat that you glimpse something — a quick, bright gleam. “What was that?” you ask. ‘”What?” He looks cagey. “I thought I saw something.” Johann just says, “So, to Finale?” To stay with Johann, turn right along Dartmouth and turn left onto St. James. To go your own way, turn left along Dartmouth and turn right onto Boylston.
OK, so Ethan Gilsdorf, from there, participants can choose those two paths. Give us a quick sense of what happens in the stories if you choose those two separate paths. You didn’t write those two, but you did write what comes after.
Ethan Gilsdorf: So, on one path — very briefly, without giving away too much of the story — she ditches the date and she runs into some interesting characters who are sitting there on Copley Square. There’s a psychic and a psychic-in-training, and the character gets an invitation to be part of a reality TV show. So that’s option A. The other option is you stay with the date and this character of Johann has some interesting insights into you — you the protagonist, who is the person listening.
You wrote the chapter that comes after that. Could you read a portion of that chapter?
“Well,” he says, “if you want more tea, you know how to find me.” “Right-o.” You exchange a couple more awkward phrases, give him a consolation hug and pat on the back, and watch him turn left on Clarendon and duck under the Colonnade behind Trinity Church. Good riddance. Objective reached.
Were authors like you asked to try to pick out a lot of landmarks that were distinctive on a particular Boston street when they wrote their stories?
Gilsdorf: Absolutely. So as people are walking down the street, we hope that they’re going to look up and go, “Oh, yeah, there’s the Hancock Tower, just like I’m hearing in the story at this moment.”
What do you hope people get out of this as they walk around the city listening to a story that changes depending on where in Boston they are?
Power: I think they get the experience of really participating in a story as it’s happening. And being physically immersed in the setting at the same time that they’re able to choose a little bit — choose the path that the story will take — I think is one of those wonderful ways in which you can really be immersed in narrative.
Gilsdorf: You’re not just absorbing or taking in a narrative that’s sort of already there for you. You get to have some options and hopefully be taken on a ride that is unexpected.
Ethan, when you heard the chapter that came after your chapter, did you have the experience that that’s not the way you had hoped it would go?
Gilsdorf: You know, a little bit. But what was wonderful about the collaborative process — it was a lot of give and take, and of course it was actually really quite wonderful to see what someone else had done with what you had given them.
Power: For me, it was I’ve always been on sports teams my whole life, and it was an opportunity to bring the experience of the sports team to writing and put together a good team that would work together really well and have fun working together.
Gilsdorf: And while you were on sports teams, I was playing “Dungeons and Dragons” in high school. For those gamers out there and geeks, this is sort of like a walking role-playing game, in a way.
The athletes and the geeks came together to make a good story.
Gilsdorf: We did!
Power: That’s right!