Interview with Creator of Quake Book and It’s Not Disaster Porn!


The Quake Book – Interview with Our Man in Abiko

I read about the Quake book on a one of the countless website that’s publishing about the disaster. This one caught my eye since it’s not a long form story book, but one using social media as the content aggregator. It’s speed of being made – one week sounded astounding and as I researched further, past GR contributor, SF Bay area resident Dan Ryan is one of the volunteers for the project. He began his contribution as editor and PR person just by sending an offer to help. Now on the verge of being released, this publication is rich in stories of the quake and it’s aftermath. The short texts are touching and include words by GR friend William Gibson. This will probably be the first of numerous books related to the quake and it’s process of involving social media couldn’t be more apt.

 

GR: You’ve sort of kept your identity mysterious, why?
OMIA: Several reasons. The first, is that this is a collective effort for charity. It seems immoral to take credit for something that, yes, I started, but has directly involved more than 200 people around the globe in an effort to help people really suffering from the devastation caused by the earthquake, tsunami and radiation disasters. Everyone in the project has given their time for free. This is not my story, it’s Japan’s story. A secondary reason is I don’t want to subject my family to the glare of the media. To be clear, I’m not so much hiding my identity as choosing to adopt the pen name and persona of Our Man in Abiko, a redundant British agent who has found his voice in defence of Japan. It wouldn’t be hard to find my true identity, but I ask you not to. It’s more fun this way.

GR: Publishing at this speed is amazing but it seems to be with some problems. Which were most frustrating?
OMIA: The frustration comes from completing a draft book in one week, which is what I promised (and we delivered by Jove!) and then finding that it’s taken us over two weeks to get it published. The book world is not used to working at our pace, and it has struggled to keep up. But, it has been worth the wait because now, rather than just sell a few thousand copies from our own blog, we have the potential to sell hundreds of thousands from Amazon, who have promised to waive all fees, which is amazing and understandably took some maneuvering for their organization, which takes time.

(this is just the bottom half of the book cover – the main image is the top)

 

GR: I know one motivation is to help via book sales, but what do you think will happen when people sit and read the stories?

OMIA: Of course we want the book to sell oodles and boodles (that’s a technical term) but that wasn’t the primary purpose of moving so quickly. I wanted to complete the book so fast because hundreds of thousands of people are suffering right now. What deadline do they have? Can they wait six months for the publishing industry to pull its finger out? No. So why should we wait? The other reason is I wanted to record what people thought, right after the earthquake, not one month after. Already, my memory is playing tricks on me about the day, and I wanted the raw reports, not opinions tempered by time and reevaluation.

 

GR: Is Quake Book meant to be somewhat voyeuristic?

OMIA: Not at all. If you are looking for disaster porn, you will be disappointed. There are tales of real human suffering from survivors in Sendai and Fukushima, but equally there are stories from people in Tokyo and around the world for whom the disasters were distant but the suffering was personal. It’s a snapshot of what the earthquake means to people around the world.

 

GR: What do you think this book will do as compared to what’s been said in the media?

OMIA: It records a moment in time – 2:46 Mach 11, 2011, that will come to define Japanese history. I firmly believe this. Already, we talk about before and after the quake, much like Augsut 6th, 1945 – the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima – came to define the end of one era and the beginning of another. The media do what what they do, but they live for the moment. This book documents that moment for future generations.

 

GR: How did you fare in the quake? What were the first things you did once you checked on your own family?

OMIA: I was fine. My story is dull in comparison to others’. If your family is safe, there is nothing else to worry about really, nothing else matters.

 

GR: The response for this disaster might be the first of it’s kind using social media. What changes do you think may happen as a result of the world seeing social media being used more than anything else?

OMIA: I hope it puts a nail in the coffin of “social media is a waste of time” comments and “you can’t express anything worthwhile in 140 characters” Nonsense. It is what you use it for. You can use it to gather the talents of hundreds to write a book of lasting import that will raise hundreds of thousands for the Japanese Red Cross, maybe saving lives, or you can use it to bitch about Charlie Sheen, it’s up to you.

 

GR: Social Media was used for calls for help, relief efforts, SOS, people telling people that they’re fine. And in your case, you’re using it to tell a story. How else was it used that I’m missing?

OMIA: Myriad of ways. Essentially it connects people. Without social media, in this case Twitter, I wouldn’t have been able to forge a global newsroom from my bedroom that linked my neighbours (who wrote for the book) to Yoko Ono, Barry Eisler and William Gibson who all donated pieces for the project. Hello? I created a book in a week with an original piece donated by William Gibson. With Yoko Ono???? How was this possible? It wouldn’t have been without twitter.

 

GR: How fast did you think of the book idea? What motivated that?

OMIA: In the course of a 10-minute shower on Friday March 18th. I was motivated by a desire to help relieve the suffering on my doorstep and by the certain knowledge that I was living through extraordinary times that had to be documented.

 

GR: After the book is out and done, what’s next?

OMIA: Good question. We already have a website, www.quakebook.org, that is gathering more material and volunteers. We are already far along the path of a Japanese language version and up to 10 other languages, all work done by volunteers. I want to see a print version of the book and then, who knows? The project has acquired a life of its own, so I’m as excited and intrigued as anyone else to see what happens next.

Find him at @ourmaninabiko and or www.ourmaninabiko.com


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