Castle Stolen

Photo CT Humanities CouncilCrime is up online in Connecticut—in young people’s mystery e-book fiction.

The perpetrator is the Connecticut Humanities Council, which has launched The Great CT Caper, a serialized suspense storybook, available only online and pitched to kids about 11 years old.

Following the lead of the Library of Congress’s The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, the Council, through its Center for the Book affiliate, assembled 12 authors and 12 illustrators to create chapters in a continuing story. The chapters are being released approximately once every two weeks. The first chapter, written by Yelizaveta Renfro and illustrated by Kearen Enright, was released on Jan. 4.

New Haven architect and artist Marcela Staudenmaier’s illustration for the fourth chapter of The Great CT Caper (pictured above) was selected for the e-book’s cover illustration.

A New Haven celebratory launch party for The Great CT Caper takes place Jan. 28 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. It’s free and parents, teachers, librarians, detectives, architects, aspiring mystery writers, magicians, building movers, crane operators ... please fill in the next space ...  are invited.

In The Great CT Caper, Gillette Castle in East Haddam disappears from the banks of the Connecticut River, witnessed by protagonists Thomas and Li-Ming during a school trip. It’s the perfect crime for the kids to solve because Thomas wants to be a detective of real crimes when he grows up and Li-Ming loves to draw buildings and yearns to become an architect.

Kids are encouraged to sign up and help the kids solve the mystery, along the way learning state history, geography, and ecology. But no one, including most of the 12 writers, will know the ending until the final chapter. That’s because the premise is a take-off on the exquisite corpse game, invented or at least popularized by Andre Breton and the early Surrealists to shake traditional narration and tap into the spontaneous.

Writing teachers frequently employ the technique to ease students’ tensions about writing and promote creativity. Each time one “deploys the corpse,” as the saying goes, one can set up the rules. The second writer may only be allowed to see the last sentence—or last word—of the first writer’s line, or chapter. There may be a requirement that each line or chapter use adjectives that name colors, or flowers, or airplane parts. They may be required to use the word mayonnaise, no matter what.

The possibilities are endless and potentially lots of fun. The technique can open doors to narrative drive if one author aims to build on the previous installment. Or, a subsequent author may lay down false clues or decoys on the route to solving the mystery. At its wildest, the exquisite corpse game leads to non-sequitur hilarity and narrative mayhem.

For this project, each writer gets to read the previous chapters before he or she adds the next chapter. Six chapters have been written, with the seventh in process. The word on the digital street is no one will know who swiped the castle until the final chapter.

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posted by: MariaLuisa on January 12, 2015  10:21am

I’m most pleased to know Ms Marcela Staudenmaier is one of your illustrators. I’ve known this outstanding architect and artist since she was a young girl here in Jujuy, Argentina. She was then my own children’s close friend and attended my English classes.
There has been a strong and enriching friendship between the two families for the last thirty-five years
I’m already engaged with Chapter One of the story and think the downloadable material will be very much appreciated by the teachers and students at the small school where I teach.
I truly congratulate the whole staff behind this wondrous project!