You DO Have Time for This

Nobody needs a new NEA study to prove that literature is being squeezed out of our busy lives. But rather than fighting back against the Webby forces of evil, Dave Daley is one of those clever innovators trying to use the Internet to keep an old art form alive.

FiveChapters.jpg An experienced magazine and newspaper editor, Dave started a Web site called Five Chapters back in October, 2006. The site is elegantly simple and wholly addictive: Every week, he publishes a five-part story, serial-style, Monday through Friday. It's Charles Dickens for the 21st century. And what's more, Dave has managed to attract some of the country's hottest writers, including Stewart O'Nan, Arthur Phillips, Curtis Sittenfeld, John Wray, Wells Tower, Julia Glass, Darin Strauss, Jay McInerney and Kate Christensen. All for free.

I spoke with Dave from his desk at the Louisville Courier-Journal where he works as an arts and features editor.

"There are weeks when I don't finish the story in the New Yorker," he confesses, "but I thought if it were serialized, I might have a better shot."

"I was walking around Details and seeing what horrible things my colleagues were reading on their breaks," he said, referring to his previous job as features editor at the men's style magazine. "You would just see the most embarrassing things on their screens. It was all Gawker/Stalker. And I can't say that I don't look at those sites myself when I have a couple of minutes. But I thought, what if we had a place where you could use five minutes to read a good short story?"

And so Five Chapters was born. Since then he's published more than 150 stories. It's a weekly battle, Dave says, with all the new media distractions.

"If we don't fight for the book and the short story, we really will get replaced by Twitter and blogs and all of these other things. We have to figure out a way to squeeze writing that matters into a format that people actually use to do their reading."

(He's no snob. During our conversation, he puts down the phone and tells a reporter to get over to a local Best Buy for some man-on-the-street reaction to Michael Jackson's memorial.)

So far, Five Chapters carries no ads ("I kind of like the idea that there's a place on-line where you can read without the pop-ups or the roll-downs"), and the contributing authors don't get paid.

"I'm a mad e-mailer," he says. "I write passionate notes to writers I admire. And I tell them about the site and why I think it's a good place for them to be. Here's an audience of story-lovers and book buyers."

The site's traffic peeked at 50,000 the week he published a story by the late John Cheever, but average traffic is a respectable 15,000 to 30,000.

"The short story is just ideal for our attention spans these days."

Surf on by.

-- Ron Charles

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By Ron Charles |  July 8, 2009; 5:38 AM ET Ron Charles
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