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Laser Lace Letters

Maker Haley Moore uses new technologies to develop story artifacts that you can touch and wear. Her crowd funded project ‘Laser Lace Letters’ turns us into steampunk detectives…

When we talk about the role and value of tangibility in literature, it’s usually about the value of the physical book: the weight of it in your hands, the motion of turning the pages, the beauty of the art and the typesetting, the feel of the paper, the power it holds over you as you sink into it, freed from distraction. But tangibility, coupled with the flexilibity of modern printing, also opens us up to tell stories in ways that are unique and set apart from the digital world.

Laser Lace Letters, currently wrapping up on Kickstarter, is hardly a book at all. It’s a collection – of personal letters and manifestos, newspaper clippings and old advertisements, deeds and wills, love letters and suicide notes. It’s a book unbound, pulped, and reincarnated into a hundred little bits of a bigger story.

Laser Lace Letters is completely crowdfunded (now at $11,000 with just a couple of days left) and designed, initially, for a small audience of about 200 people. The showcase piece in each of its seven collections of letters is a handmade artifact, a unique cameo pin made from laser cut parts that shows a person transformed. The entire endeavor is artisanal by nature.

The idea to tell a story about these strange figures came while I was making the first prototypes of the cameos in December of last year. Ever since I joined my hackerspace in 2010, I’ve been entranced with our laser CNC laser cutter, my favorite tool. It cuts things using light, without touching them, perfectly cleanly, and when they’ve been cut out they fall down into the laser bed, separate from the sheet they were once a part of. I’ve also seen the ways it can fail, and how it can be dangerous.

At the same time, I was getting involved in Clockwork Watch, a steampunk open storyworld that involves comics, film, promenade theater and online interaction, and invites participants to create a persona and write their own stories that mingle with the main narrative threads of the world and become part of a Creative Commons licensed story base that anyone else can build on.

I knew I wanted to create something as a participant of Clockwork Watch, and began to imagine our laser cutter in the hands of a mad scientist – would he be content with cutting bits of felt, wood and plastic? It’s far more likely he would dream up something even more miraculous, and more frightening.

I never had any doubt about how I wanted to deliver the story. I’m an Alternate Reality Game propmaker of seven years and have been waiting for the opportunity to do something like this. In my time I’ve made magical masks, flags, evidence from fictional crime scenes, letters with hidden messages, and too many fake newspaper articles and fictitious corporate logos to count – but one thing I’ve never been able to do is use all of those skills in a single project to tell a particular story.

When we design for digital interactivity, we spend a lot of time emulating the properties of physical objects, whether that’s flipping through the pages of a book or calculating the motion of a ball kicked across a playing field. A book is interactive by its nature, but only on the most basic level: a page turn is roughly equivalent to pressing ‘A’ to continue.

In a fully blown tangible story like this one, the actions you take to read a story can be much more like solving a puzzle, hunting treasure, exploring a strange house, or building a bridge. So, while you’ll never see a QR code or a phone number in Laser Lace Letters, I still love that sense of sinking into a story and being pulled away from all distraction. I’m still bringing my interactive design skills to bear, because you’re going to be taking a more active role in examining this fictional evidence.

Both the main Clockwork Watch branch and Laser Lace Letters take place in a steampunk version of Victorian London, but while Clockwork Watch is an epic story about a family thrust into the intrigues of Britain’s elite and given the chance to help invent the machine that changes the world, Laser Lace Letters is a Victorian noir piece, that digs up the details of Londoners’ daily lives, and lives in the shadows, where their secrets lie.

The two major challenges were finding that small initial audience, and raising the money to produce a first run. Kickstarter seemed like the place to do both of those things, since I could reach out to the communities I knew would immediately understand the concept, and who were hungry for the kind of tangible storytelling I could offer.

As we head into the final few days of the campaign, which ends on November 27, the Kickstarter is looking pretty well off. We stand at 50% with four days remaining. Most campaigns bring in a wave of support near the end, so I’m hoping to fund just in time. The most interesting thing about the Kickstarter so far, is that we’ve given people the option to simply buy a digital copy of the Letters for a much lower price, but so far, they choose the tangible version far more often.

You can support Laser Lace Letters here

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